Fall is a glorious time to be in the Finger Lakes! Crisp days and cool nights. The smell of grapes in the air. Fields bursting with cornstalks and bright orange pumpkins. And, don’t forget the apples ripening on their trees!
I recently turned to an experienced educator, Theresa Xia Michna, for some expert advice on planning an apple picking day trip that would encourage competencies in a non-threatening, exciting way. Teachable travel isn’t a new idea; I did it with my kids, as did Theresa. With almost everyone back to school and work, it’s time to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that learning can be a joyful exploration beyond memorization, remote learning, and daily struggles. For those who scoff, saying a few hours on a farm will never hold as much value as a trip to Europe or Yosemite, I disagree. Travel is what you’re willing to make of it and nothing highlights the best our area has to offer, in people and produce, more than a visit to your local U-pick apple orchard!
Where would Theresa begin? At the public library, of course. Stop by and have your kids ask the librarian what books they’d recommend reading before going to pick apples. Theresa suggests encouraging a face-to-face conversation with the librarian rather than steering your kids toward the computer section. “Librarians are thrilled to be able to share their ideas and favorite books with children again,” she says. “They’ve really missed seeing the boys and girls in person.”
Once you’ve read your books and picked your orchard, it’s time to talk about what you might see, hear, taste, or smell there. Any traveler will tell you that visualization are often the best parts of the travel experience! Have a conversation about what you should bring, for example a camera or your phone for photos or a small notebook and pen to draw or record what you see and do (data). If your kids ask if you picked apples when you were their age, share your stories. If you didn’t, tell them it’s never too late to start!
Now for the tricky part. I asked Theresa how parents could incorporate education into the trip without sucking all the fun out of it. “Easy!” she assured me. Pick two or three skills from the NYS Common Core and come up with a few questions that engage the whole family. She suggests starting with comparison, prediction, and cause and effect.
Here’s a few examples of questions we came up with to ask in the orchard, at the weigh and pay area, or when you’re back home.
- What differences do you notice between the varieties? How do apples compare in size, color, and taste?
- Time for a guessing game! Have everyone predict the weight of your container(s) of fruit. Which will weigh the most? The least? Have older kids check the price list and estimate how much different apples will cost (this is where the notebook comes in handy).
Like librarians, farmers are proud of what they do and like to share their knowledge with others. Encourage your kids to speak to them but if they feel shy, you can start the ball rolling. “What kind of growing season did you have this year?” is a good open-ended, predictive question.
- Was it too wet, too dry, or a perfect balance? How does the weather effect your crop (cause and effect)? How about natural threats like insects, birds, or disease? How have climate change and the pandemic impacted your farming?
When it’s time to go, don’t forget to take a picture with your freshly-picked fruit to display once you get home. And maybe this year take two apples to your teacher. Just because.
Note: Though this post focuses on NYS, most of the ideas in it could easily be adapted to other states and other types of farms.
Downstate, Theresa gets her apples at the Larchmont Farmers Market from The Orchards of Concklin (Pomona) Their staff is delightful and the apples are delicious! Learn more at http://www.orchardsofconcklin.com/
Upstate, I pick at Reisinger’s Apple Country in Watkins Glen (see photos) at least twice a season. It’s locally owned and operated and their fruit is perfect for baking or eating. There’s a small store too with pumpkins and other produce, cider, and the best donuts you will ever eat. Visit their website to check out this apple trivia and see how your family does! https://applesandmoore.com/educational/
Theresa Xia Michna is an international trainer and teacher, presently coaching math and STEM subjects in lower Westchester. She’s taught nearly 3,000 hours of SAT/ACT test prep and is a graduate of Cornell University. Contact her at Michna.firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 815-8754.