By Julia Gondova Medeiros
“Children are born with all the curiosity they will ever need. It will last a lifetime if they are fed upon a daily diet of ideas” ~ Charlotte Mason
Long Beach is a city where children may often ask that question. Southern California has more various cultural food choices than many other places. I became aware of this when I moved here from Slovakia seven years ago. In my country we mostly eat traditional Slovak cuisine, though here I have eaten dishes that I have never eaten in my life.
Curiosity and exploration comes naturally to children, but in regards to food, they may be a little hesitant. I wanted to connect with children and spark their natural curiosity by introducing them to a food that I used to eat as a child. One of my favorite dishes growing up was “Šúľance s makom” which is Gnocchi with Poppy Seeds. The way we serve and incorporate poppy seeds in Slovak dishes is by grinding the seeds. This process enhances the flavor and releases oils. I asked my family to ship us a grinder and also a few poppy heads that supported our exploration.
There were many amazing moments during our exploration, and one of them was when Jack was grinding the poppy seeds. He was turning the handle in the direction that did not grind the poppy seeds. He was looking down into the hopper that held the poppy seeds and noticed that the poppy seeds were rising up. He said, “Look Julia, poppy seeds are growing belly.” I had a flash back from my childhood, when I too turned the handle the opposite way and observed how the poppy seeds moved up in the hopper instead of moving down to be ground. Madison observed his action and suggested, “Try the other way Jack.” Jack followed Madison’s suggestion, and this allowed him to grind the poppy seeds. They both were very excited about it. I saw joy and excitement in their eyes. They problem solved together.
Finn took his exploration to a different level. After finding out everything about the poppy seeds he asked me if he could stay and be a part of the next group and share his knowledge of the poppy seeds with his classmates. He picked up the pictures of the wild and the edible poppy seeds and passed on his knowledge about it to them. He picked up a dish of his ground poppy seeds and shared it with teachers in the classroom. He had them taste the ground and non-ground versions. I saw how proud and empowered he was when he tapped his chest and said, “I did this. I ground this on my own.”
Another wonderful moment I observed was Juniper’s exploration of a poppy head. She held it very gently. She was twisting it, touching the top of the head and looking into the holes where the poppy seeds would come out from. I saw her being mesmerized. I knew that her sister’s name is Poppy, which made me wonder. What is she thinking about now? How does she feel about it? This moment was precious. It felt like she had developed a personal connection to it.
As I was passing through the Oak Room after rest time, I got feedback on the dish from Calder. He had just woken up and sat cross-legged on his bed. He looked up, moved his bangs off his face and said, “Julia, I really like that dish you made today. I really like those Gnocchi with poppy seeds.” I thought to myself, you carried this thought through your dreams. How amazing. Today you have tasted something new, something different and you even liked it. I am so happy for you Calder. I was excited for being able to unlock his natural curiosity.
The poppy seed exploration confirmed what I already knew about children’s spirit. They are amazing problem solvers. They can engage and build relationships with each other. They can pass on the knowledge. They can feel empowered, confident and proud of themselves. They can be attentive in their exploration. They can carry their memories and yes, they can do all these things and more. I am glad we found a way to connect and create these experiences through poppy seeds.