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Delavan school program links reading with culinary treats

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Neil Johnson
March 2, 2013

— The key to a learning child’s brain is the stomach.

Especially when the treats offered are as varied popcorn, spaetzle, meatballs, salsa and worms in dirt.

Not real worms in dirt, as it turns out. It was gummy worms in pudding and crushed Oreo cookies. The creation was a culinary companion to Teacher Abby Drobot’s book theme—bugs.

Drobot and dozens of other teachers hosted Reading Restaurant, a food-themed, family read-along for students in Pre-k through fifth grade Friday evening at Turtle Creek Elementary School in Delavan.

Hundreds of students and their parents fluttered from room to room, trying snacks and reading each other books—in more than 20 themed classrooms all over the school.

In Drobot’s room, it was all books about insects, everything from nonfiction books about beetles to such storybooks as “The Very Hungry Catepillar.” Another room had Swedish pancakes, Swedish meatballs and was chock full of Pippi Longstocking books.

Its restaurant name: “Swedish Smorgasbord.”

Another room, “Mo’s Diner,” served hot dogs. The room was dedicated the children’s book author Mo Willams and a hot dog-chomping pigeon who figures prominently in Willams’ books.

First grade teacher Kirsten Andreoni, whose room hosted “Mo’s Diner,” said many students like to try eating different foods and reading different books. Pairing the two seemed to be natural fit—and more dynamic than hosting a movie night at school.

Last year was the first year of Reading Restaurant at Turtle Creek, and it was a smash.

“There were over 200 kids that came, and it was in a blizzard. When you have that kind of a turnout in a storm, you know you’re going to have success bringing it back the next year,”

Students going from room to room would check in at each “restaurant” by getting a souvenir passport stamped. Then they’d sit down at a table full of themed books. Some tables had colorful placemats made by students in class.

Other rooms were decorated with glowing lights and had a candle-lit ambience. Some students went into as many as nine or 10 rooms to sample a variety of food and books.

Students like Dylan Archer, 6, were eating it up.

Dylan had a big plate of chips and spicy salsa. He was reading out loud a Spanish-language children’s book about a duck and a polar bear in the school’s English Language Learners classroom.

“I cannot read Spanish, but I’m reading it anyway,” he said.

Dylan did, however, learn what the word “amigo” means. His mother, Vicki Ketterman, said she and Dylan read together all the time.

Andreoni said that her goal for Reading Restaurant is that it sparks or rekindles reading relationships between parents and students.

“It’s different than reading in class. If you see mom or dad reading, you realize that it’s important. It’s something you want to do, or that you look forward to,” Andreoni said.

“And for mom and dad, it’s different too. They see what reading their child enjoys. It opens them up too.”

Andreoni said it was a unique experience for teachers to watch their students interacting with parents. She said it’s very clear that some students read with their parents often. For some, it’s a new experience.

“The teachers just kind of stand back and watch. It’s not an academic night. It’s about having fun and spending time reading with family,” Andreoni said.

“It’s about the love of kids, the love of food and the love of reading.”


 

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