Teachable Moments: Week of Nov. 23, Celebrate Thanksgiving with Corn!

This time of year is full of stories of Pilgrims and the Native Americans that helped them to survive their first year. When the European explorers and colonizers first arrived in the “New World,” they found all kinds of new (to them) and interesting foods: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, chocolate, vanilla, tobacco, beans, pumpkin, peanuts, cashews, blueberries, wild rice, squashes, sweet potatoes, quinine, and corn.

Corn was actually created (in what we now call Mexico) by breeding two unlike plants—over five thousand years ago! Corn became a staple food for the people living throughout all of the Americas.

While they may not have understood the whys of it, the early Americans knew or figured out that corn by itself was an “incomplete” food (nutritionally) and usually served it with beans, which rounded out the required nutrition. In fact, they often planted the corn with beans and squash, known as “the three sisters.”

Ponder-able questions:

  • What foods do you eat on a daily basis that come from corn?
  • What holiday (Thanksgiving in particular) foods do you eat that come from corn?
  • What non-edible things do you use that come from corn (or the corn plant)?
  • How do you think corn spread from Mexico to all Native Americans throughout Central, North, and South America?
  • How is the way corn is used in Mexico the same as or different from the way the Native Americans used corn with the Pilgrims in what is now New England?
  • What are some ethnic corn-based foods found in:
    • New England
    • Southeast US
    • Southwest US
    • Pacific Northwest US
    • Mexico
  • How does the geography of those areas affect the types of food the natives ate in general?
  • What are some things that you eat today that you would not have been able to grow or find in your geographical area several hundred years ago?
  • Experiential Learning with Indian Corn:

  • At this time of year, Indian corn is easily found in grocery stores—mostly as a decoration. How is Indian corn the same as or different from the corn on the cob you might eat in the summer?
  • Ask children how they think the corn got so dry.
  • How would they dry it?
  • Why would it be important for the corn to be dry before using as flour or cornmeal?
  • Ask the children how they would remove the kernels from the cob, and then let them do it. (This can be a little messy if they start “flinging” the kernels around. I suggest letting them hold the corn inside of a large pot and pushing the kernels off directly into the pot.)
  • If you happen to have a mortar and pestle, let them grind a few kernels into corn meal.
  • What other (non-electric) things could they use to grind the corn into a corn meal?
  • How has the corn changed and why?
  • The Indian corn can be ground into meal using a coffee grinder. I recommend doing a handful of kernels at a time, so you do not overload the machine. Grind it as finely as possible. I even separated the finely ground meal from the not-so-finely ground meal (using a colander because that’s all I could find…) and then re-ground the larger pieces.
  • How does this corn meal compare or contrast to store-bought cornmeal? Let the children feel it, smell it and even taste it.
  • Use this cornmeal in any recipe that you use for Thanksgiving and absolutely let the children help you make it!
  • Ask children to think of how the resulting food (cornbread?) might be different than “normal.”
  • Language Arts: Have children describe (write or draw pictures) of how corn is made into cornbread or another favorite corn-based food. (Is the sequence of steps important: why or why not?)
  • Book to read: Burro’s Tortillas
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