Sow- Eat -Grow, Read-Kids -Cooking , Gardening, and Deeply Rooted Learning

This is the result from our learning about herbs. Mr. DeBaggio started a business. We always got free plants at the beginning of spring for our class. He started us on a wonderful learning journey.

But I am starting at the end of the story. Let me tell it in sequence.

First, this quote”

Most people know me because of my interest in science, math , technology and engineering. But lots of people love me for my cooking. Well cooking is an accidental science. But most don’t think of it in that way. My dad ate a lot of my experiments he used to say. But I learned and became an accomplished cook. I never thought that cooking would intersect with teaching.
 Mr. DeBaggio was a parent in my school. He came in one day when I was teaching about plants and offered to teach the class how to grow herbs on the windowsill.
We were studying Medieval England and so I thought ok, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”. He grew a lot more. It was nice to not have to pay extravagant prices for the herbs. He also published a newsletter that told us all about the use of herbs, now and then.
He became a frequent visitor to the classroom.He told us that we would better understand Medieval Times if we studied the culture of the times to that of Shakespeare’s time. So we took on the challenge.
 He produced a catalog of herbs. He told us that they were used , not just for eating, but for other purposes, medicinal, household uses, and for fragrance, oh yes and for remembering.
 His catalog shares the use , and care of plants.
You can get the new version of the catalog here.
Download the catalog
Spring 2015
(1.4 Mb)
This is a tribute to him. He developed that hobby into a business.
Sadly, he got ill..
His son Francesco ,shared this.
My father finally succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease on Monday, February 21, 2011. He had been living in a nursing home for the last two-and-a-half years. He developed an infection that caused him to have difficulty swallowing and breathing. Within 5 days, he quickly deteriorated, and died as peacefully as possible.

**A passage in “Losing My Mind” noted the supposed healing powers of rosemary bushes and the melancholy Mr. DeBaggio felt as he watched the herb grow in the greenhouse – “splashy blue and subtle white” – on the day he received his diagnosis.

Noah Adams and, more recently, Melissa Block of NPR’s All Things Considered followed the progression of his disease in several installments over the last few years.
Washington Post Obituary Listen to the NPR interviews with Tom DeBaggio and his wife, Joyce, chronicling their experience with this devastating disease.
A Parent Helps Shape the Learning Journey“How He Helped Us Focus and Learn”

The classroom was before incessant testing.

We had time to learn calligraphy, both basic and Illuminated, to learn to play chess, and to interact with the Folger Shakespeare Library.We made flutes and then bought flutes to learn to play.We read David McCauley books on “Castles” and then we tried to build our own castles.We read so many books.

We looked at movies and videos and engineered our own “castles”.That was great fun.

Castle by David McCauley,It’s a great book. It was inspiration.So we read Cathedral too. Now there are vidoes now.

The thing about the book. The illustrations and word play. We read the books over and over again.



We studied the use of herbs as medicine , food in the early times.

We had a book, “Shake Hands with Shakespeare”. It was a student edition of some of Shakespeare’s Plays.But I was side tracked as the students found editions of the play’s in their home libraries and they preferred those editions. Soon they were comparing editions. This came in as a great help when we had to produce our own version of a Shakespeare play.


The Folger invites teachers and their students from across the DC Metro area to perform their 25-minute interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. The students help edit, direct, and craft a piece, then perform in front of an audience of their peers in a day-long festival that celebrates Shakespeare’s language, his plays, and the students’ achievements mastering his work.

* surely it increased vocabulary

From the Herbal Gardens to Medieval Music we went…

We learned to play the flute at lunch break. A local school group came and sang madrigals to us. Then a high school group made us Medieval costumes.

In the science part of the lesson we were also hatching chickens, and one duck. Our eggs were successful , and the duck, hatched too . He was a black duck. He swam in circles in a bowl while in school. Sometimes he followed us around the room.( We called him Shakespeare) . When he got big, we gave him to a family to be a pet.

The National Geographic had a map that we used to explore trips to get ready for the big event.We wanted to know what England was like. We were after all, going to the Folger Shakespeare Library to a replica theater.

Children’s Festival
Every spring, hundreds of students in grades 3–6 perform Shakespeare for one another on the stage and in our Great Hall at a festival. The Emily Jordan Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival, which is open to schools in the DC, Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area, features audience participation, great performances, wild applause from parents and fans, guests visiting from the 17th century, and a memento to take home.

  We were a class that took all of this to heart.
The next year we:
Raised chickens and a duck
Learned chess and did living chess in the school yard
Made bread dough dragons with almond toenails
Made Illuminated Initials in Gold for our Desks ( art teacher)
Learned to make herbal wreaths and tea
Took more flute lessons
Learned to mordant wool, ( get dye colors as they did back then)
We took rudimentary fencing lessons
We had a feast using authentic recipes. BEST? Sorrel soup, and Turkey haunches)
Learned to use an abacus
Listened to a town crier
Made a replica of the First Shakespeare library
Grew flowers as Anne Hathaway did
Borrowed an 8o pound beaded dress for our “faux” queen for our own festival
Learned the language of flowers in the old times
Understood who could wear what colors in olden times and why
Made a stained glass project.
Most of all, we learned more Shakespeare plays.
The meaning of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, Scarboroh Fair
The herbs parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, recurring in the second line of each stanza, make up for a key motive in the song. Although meaningless to most people today, these herbs spoke to the imagination of medieval people as much as red roses do to us today. Without any connotation necessary, they symbolize virtues the singer wishes his true love and himself to have, in order to make it possible for her to come back again.

Food, Kids, Nutrition and Culture..What Fun! What Great Learning Adventures!

Bonnie Bracey Sutton614636_10151200814371327_683517969_o

Sometimes I like to say this is about eating our way through Geography and History..children can be motivated by what they are interested in. Food is usually an interest.


Most people know me because of my interest in science, math , technology and engineering. But lots of people love me for my cooking.  My mother was a great cook. She said to me,if you can read you can cook. But she was from the country and cooked things in season and in a particular routine. She was excellent. She probably regretted that advice when I made bread for the first time. It was nine pans of rolls, but she was patient. I loved cooking in the kitchen with her. Virginia foods, soul foods and she liked to make French pastries ,too.

Recently , I have learned to eat more vegetables and salads. My husband brings a world of eating experience to my table. And he buys me cookbooks.

Sinking your teeth into the accidental science of cooking is fun!

I liked a wider range of foods and was always experimenting with food at home.I love how the Exploratorium calls it ” The Accidental Science of Cooking“.

On trips around the world I collected cookbooks and spices, but not for school.

I realized that one thing we all have in common was the daily task of eating.

How I Got Started

Once in the classroom during the Cherry Blossom Festival,a teacher came from the Smithsonian. She was Japanese, cute, and was teaching and cooking all at the same time. I was jealous. She had everyone’s rapt attention and even kids who were finicky about foods lined up to eat. That taught me a lesson. She was in cultural dress , talking and rocking her cooking on a hotplate. She was awesome.

My first help with cooking in the classroom was the 4H. They had some kind of recipes that were very good and inexpensive.  My second help, was having a garden in the school that I taught in, which at the time was Long Branch Elementary. in Arllington, Va.

I think I said to a parent , I would like to have a garden.  I was thinking about flowers , but there were strawberries growing in the back of the school near the park. So , all of a sudden parents and I were planning an early spring garden. Who knew it would be such fun? OK, it was also work, but the work was rewarding.

I don’t remember all of the parents, but Mr. Haithcock turned over the soil for us with a tractor , and Nathan Lyon’s family helped me choose plants.Nathan Lyon is now a chef of international status. The Lyon family helped us to get started.

Another mother came in to teach me to harden plants before we set them out. Harden? Who knew? I came from a family in Virginia who had a truck farm, but I was of the next generation. I just visited there in the summer. I learned as much as the students did. I learned to eat a lot of vegetable raw.

Did I mention Kolrabi…. I had no idea what it was. We had the soil tested by the 4H and we had written a grant so we had tools, gloves, shovels, sticks, seeds, and lots of garden resources.

I think the hardest thing was to get the kids and the tools down to the field without injury. I was always worrying about some one getting hit with a shovel, but it never happened. We had buckets too. The hose only reached so far. It was amazing how the children concentrated on the tasks.

Our school was on the edge of  a lovely park . A few of us could sit under the trees when others were digging in the dirt. Immigrant families interested in our work would also come and help weed and water. In the classroom we were raising chickens, hatching butterflies and frogs and doing Bugscope.

We should add Chickscope to the list, but we never ate our chickens. We raised them for the 4H and they would  come and collect our baby chickens.

As I matured as a teacher I learned to incorporate the geography of foods into my work. It started with the geography of a chocolate bar,

The art teacher helped us with the artistic part of it by letting us do still life painting. We visited the National Gallery of Art and saw the paintings of many artists  and we purchased a few copies of the paintings. At the link below you can take a look at some of the still life paintings in the collection and these days they are also available for the IPad.

The history of food, the travels of specific foods to the US reached a wonderful visual mapping from the ” Seeds of Change” which promoted the exchange of foods from around the world at the Smithsonian. It was  the exchange of plants and seeds between the Old and New Worlds following Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492. Themes included the introduction of horses, sugar, and disease to the New World and the introduction of potatoes and corn to the Old World.

No child in the room will forget the sculpture that showed when tomato met spaghetti. You can see that this can be the beginning of  a life long study.

Where in the world?

Here is a way to get started.

Food plays an important role in our culture and relationships. We had a map to study here.

  • This is the result from our learning about herbs. Mr. DeBaggio started a business. We always got free plants at the beginning of spring for our class.

    This is the result from our learning about herbs. Mr. DeBaggio started a business. We always got free plants at the beginning of spring for our class.

    Tom De Baggio would come into the class and start us growing seeds from herbs. The business is still going strong. From the catalog, you can learn a lot.

Sometimes we inserted food into the curriculum in interesting ways.

Here is art to eat


When we did Shakespeare , we ate using authentic recipes. We learned about sorrel and parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. The stories were fascinating. We did also make dragons with almond toenails. Too cute to eat, right away. Sorry, no picture. There be dragons, but we ate them.