By Carol South, Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — Harvesting eager minds and active hands, the Montessori Children's House includes students in all facets of daily snacks and lunches.
Each day the kitchen classroom hums with activity as director Kristina Weidenfeller guides students through the washing, preparation, cooking and presentation of healthy, tasty fare. Each week, a new roster of six children from the school's lower and upper elementary grades combines forces to feed their friends and classmates.
On a recent afternoon, students were measuring split peas to soak for a soup on the menu the next day as well as juicing carrots and slicing vegetables.
"Students will also make breads: gluten-free, quick and yeast breads," said Weidenfeller.
Working on a rotating weekly schedule, the mixed age team helps prepare 60-90 lunches per day as well as snacks for a student population of 230.
"I think it's really fun because you get to bake things and you get to, at the end, taste what you made," said Kora Voss, 8, whose favorite food to both prepare and eat is the apple-cinnamon French toast.
The students don cheerful homemade aprons and chef hats for their turns cutting, chopping, mixing, peeling and measuring.
In addition to a brightly lit and kid friendly kitchen classroom, the school on North Long Lake Road features greenhouses and gardens.
Another part of the students' meaningful work, a central theme promoted by educator Maria Montessori, is planting, nurturing and harvesting from the gardens. Output includes herbs, squash, salad greens and other produce that becomes part of their daily meals.
"Even in the toddler rooms they can prepare simple snacks," said Michele Shane, head of school. "They all have garden beds outside their classrooms."
The school also taps a half dozen local farmers for fresh meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables
Squash and other homegrown and locally grown edibles will be featured during the school's second annual Harvest Dinner enjoyed by member families on Thursday.
"We have an abundance of squash this year, 280 pounds of squash," Shane said of part of the menu's inspiration, which has roasted squash as a centerpiece.
In recent weeks, teams of students have been busier than usual in the kitchen classroom preparing for the feast, which will also include pesto potato salad (the garden also yielded an abundance of basil,) green salad and pulled pork.
Organizers are preparing for 150-200 attendees at the Harvest Dinner, which grew out of the school's summer program a few years ago.
"We have weeklong blocks of activity and one week is a cooking class," said Shane. "At the end of the week, we had a culminating class to showcase what the children had done."
"That was so great we decided to extend the idea to the whole school," she added. "Last year's dinner was extremely well attended."
This year, children's songwriter Joe Reilly will perform after dinner, which will be served family style with attendees eating together in their child's classroom.
"We've also invited farmers with whom we have the closest relationship to come," said Shane of another Harvest Dinner first.
Whether creating dishes for daily consumption or working ahead for a special event, students at The Children's House enjoy the hands-on opportunity to learn. On average, each student logs two weeklong chunks per year in the kitchen classroom. Class times for older students are 90-minutes long.
Younger primary-age students eagerly await their turn in the kitchen, too. They can help in the kitchen when they reach lower elementary classroom.
"The younger kids, their first official time in the kitchen they talk about it beforehand, their parents say they are so excited," Weidenfeller said.