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August Means Blueberries!

Although there are several farms within minutes of my home that grow blueberries, there’s just something extra-special about getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city and into the quiet heart of farmland, which is why I make the 75-minute trek every year to heavenly Blueberry Hill in Hornell, NY.

We met up with friends (and their friends!) for a couple of hours of blueberry-picking! Despite the torrential rains that fell the day before our picking expedition, the fields were plenty dry, thanks to the sandy soil that best nurtures the blueberry bushes! Of course, we ate just about every other berry we picked! Here’s our afternoon in photos . . .


Now the freezer is full and we’ll have delicious berries all winter for pancakes, muffins, coffee cake, homemade jams, and smoothies . . . although our favorite way to eat them is just plain!
I know, I know . . . you're wondering what blueberry-picking has to do with an educational blog on literacy. Well, a lot actually. The learning experiences that accompany harvesting one's own foods  and learning about sustainable farming practices are lessons that stick for a lifetime . . . but I want to connect activities such as this to building background knowledge. Students need broad background experiences to connect to their reading passages. Students who have never been to the city have difficulty fully comprehending reading passages set in the city; likewise, students who have never harvested food cannot fully connect to passages that discuss how labor costs affect food prices.
Students always start with what they know. Effective teachers always take a few moments to activate their students' schema (or background knowledge) prior to a lesson or learning activity. When students have no schema, comprehension becomes difficult . . . even the most effective comprehension strategies just cannot compensate for missing background knowledge. This is why it's vitally important to get out of the house (and out of the classroom, when possible!) and experience life!

Background knowledge or schema that can be internalized while picking blueberries includes:
-Blueberries grow on perennial bushes.
-Wild blueberries grow on low-bushes and cultivated berries grow on high-bushes.
-Blueberries are one of the only natural foods that are truly blue in color.
-Biting flies, bees, and earwigs love blueberries.
-There are at least 16 varieties of blueberries.
-Blueberries are often hand-picked; however, some farmers have mechanical harvesters that shake the berries off the bush.
-Blueberries can be used as a natural dye. Early American colonists boiled blueberries and milk to make gray paint!
In the midst of your end-of-summer busyness and back-to-school hubbub, I wish you a few fun hours of berry-picking . . . and building background knowledge!

Happy August!

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