Fall is here and that means a whole new crop of fruits and vegetables are available for consumption. One food item that used to be linked to cooler weather is apples. Now, however, these are available pretty much all year long, but for me, the best tasting apples are available in the fall.
If you do a quick search of science lessons for kids exploring the world of apples you will find a variety of crafts or recipes for kid friendly apple dishes. These can be fun pursuits and I will identify some here, but I believe that the real things, or those apples in your kitchen, are pretty fascinating on their own. Apples are readily available and familiar. This familiarity suggests that you should invite your child to inspect those apples closely to inform understanding of fruits in general, or how they are grown, variations in the plants they come from, and differences in the final form of the fruit.
If you are interested in how to use the following material when playing or talking with your child, please first read the “What is Guiding Curiosity” page. The following is meant provide you with various ideas on how to extend a conversation about apples. Next time your child is pondering an apple or any fruit, put on your hat as a guide and feed that curiosity.
Investigations begin with questions.
What are the different parts of an apple?
How do apples grow?
How long does it take for an apple to grow?
How does this growing process differ from how other fruits grow?
How many different kinds of apples are there?
Do apples grow all over the world?
Beyond eating that apple in the fridge, what other foods are made from this fruit?
Hone those observation skills, finding the language to describe sensations.
If you have an apple at home, invite your child to take a close look describing what she sees. Examine the whole apple then cut it open to reveal what is in the interior. What are the different parts of an apple (find the terms: skin, flesh or meat, seeds, stem, leaves)? Consider drawing a picture or diagram of these different parts.
Next, explore what the skin looks and feels like? Does it have a smell? What does the inside look, feel, and smell like? If you use a hand lens, take a closer look at the interior, the skin, seeds, and stem. What do these items fell and smell like?
Describe the texture of an apple in one’s mouth.
Describe the taste of the interior or “meat”.
If you have access to apples that grow wild, take a look at these and describe the skin and interiors. The skin on apples that grow wild is often not as consistent or may include spots. Taste these wild apples. If you have a number of wild apple trees in your neighborhood, can you find one with an apple that tastes good?
Do you have a crab apple tree? How can you distinguish crab apples from other apples? How do they look alike or different? Taste a crab apple if brave enough. How does it taste and how would you describe that taste relative to an apple meant to be eaten.
If you are in the grocery store, take a look at different apples available in the produce aisle. What colors are these apples? If there are several varieties of red apples, look closer. Are they all the same?
If you live in an area where there are apple orchards or even a single tree, take some time to examine the bark, leaves, and the nature of the tree. How tall is it relative to other trees? How does the bark or the leaves compare to bark or leaves from other trees?
Slice two apples in different ways or from top to bottom versus cutting in half through the circumference. Observe how the stems look. If the apple is cut in half around the circumference, the middle section or stem may have a star pattern.
This will not apply to apples from most grocery stores, but apples purchased from an orchard or wild apples may show evidence of pests or fungal growth. If you have access to these, observe where a worm or wasp burrowed into an apple. Slice the fruit so that you can see the pest’s progress, or what or how it ate its way into the fruit. Look at any fungal growth through a hand lens. What part of the apple does the fungus like?
Many wild apples are grown from seeds while most of the apples we consume were probably grafted. If you have an orchard nearby, see if you can observe where the tree was grafted. Otherwise, you may have to look up this process and describe it for your child.
Cut an apple in half and let it sit somewhere in your kitchen on a paper plate. Return in several days and examine any mold that may have grown. Or alternatively, observe what the apple looks like as it loses its moisture and dries up.
Children naturally make comparisons and those are great for developing more questions to explore.
If you are willing, purchase different kinds of apples and do a taste test. Describe the differences in taste between the apple varieties, or the tartness versus sweetness, the texture of fruit, that is, I find some apples to be mealy or soft versus crisp. Determine which is the favorite taste. Do these different types of apples smell different?
Compare a fresh apple with the taste of dried pieces of apple.
Put different sized apples in order of largest to smallest. Or classify these apples by color.
Find pictures of apples in magazine, seed catalogs, or even seed packages, and cut these out and glue or tape to index cards. There are over 7500 cultivars (think kinds of apples)(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_apple_cultivars), so there is no shortage of different types. These cards can be classified according to color, where the apples are grown or they originated geographically, their size, or any other classification scheme your child comes up with. You may need to write some information on the card such as the size of the apple or its country of origin. Depending on your child’s age they can do this or you can help.
Apples are grown worldwide and across the states in this country, so this information about origins is fascinating. You may want to explore where these countries are on a map.
Many apple varieties have very fun names, and this too could be a classification scheme or names classified by its starting letter, or names that you like or don’t (Pippin, Fiji, Ambrosia, Anna, Cameo, Jupiter, or Granny Smith to name a few).
Apples grow on trees that are deciduous or trees that lose their leaves and are dormant during winter months. How do these trees compare with trees that do not loose their leaves or green parts, or evergreen trees or shrubs? If you have an apple tree nearby observe it over several months. Consider taking photos on a phone or asking your child to draw pictures. What happens to the tree through the seasons? Is there another tree nearby that adds new leaves, or loses its leaves, or is green all year long?
Compare apples to other fruits. What other fruits grow on trees (peaches, pears) versus bushes (berries) or vines (melons)? What other fruits have an outside skin and interior flesh? Of those fruits with an outside skin, which skins are edible versus need to be peeled? Take a poll. Which fruit do friends or relatives like best? Chart these results? If you have seeds from other kinds of fruit, compare these. Are they the same, color, size, shape?
Discuss the life cycle of an apple from flower to fruit. What other fruits start as a flower?
Keep a ruler or balance scale handy for impromptu measurements and learning.
Count the apples you have at home in a bowl or the fridge. Count the number of green versus red apples.
Count the number of seeds in an apple. Keep track, so that the next time you eat an apple you can count the seeds again. Are there the same number of seeds in every apple?
Measure the height of an apple, its width or circumference.
Weigh an apple. Now take a bite and see how much it weighs.
Measure a tablespoon, half a cup, or whole cup of apple juice or apple sauce. What amount makes a good serving size, or how much does your child like to drink or eat at a time?
Cut an apple in half or in two pieces. Place the two pieces on a piece of paper and write the fraction ½. Next cut an apple into four pieces and now write the fraction ¼ under a piece. Depending on your child’s interest, you can continue this process or wait until next snack time and cut into thirds (1/3), fifths, or sixths. This is a nice hands-on introduction to fractions.
Take several polls over time. For example, your child can ask friends and relatives what is their favorite food made from apples (pie, baked, fresh, apple sauce, apple butter, candied apples, or apple juice). These results can be graphed. Alternatively, keep the question simple, or do you prefer apple juice or apple cider. If you have purchased different kinds of apples, provide samples of three, four or five types to friends and relatives asking which they prefer. Keep track of these responses and then create a bar graph of preferences.
If you have a patient child interested in transformations try the following. Weigh two or three whole apples. Write down the weight. Peel, core and slice these apples. Weigh again and write down the weight. Finally, make some applesauce, cooking those apple slices until soft. Add some sugar and maybe spices such as cinnamon. The spice probably will not weigh very much, but if you add sugar, keep track of the weight. (Pour the sugar into a measuring cup and weigh. After pouring the sugar into the cooking apples, weigh the measuring cup and subtract that weight from the weight of the sugar.) Once the applesauce is finished, measure its weight (less the weight of the pot or container). How did the weight of the apples change through this process? Alternatively, once you have sliced the apples, make note of the volume (or how many cups of slices) versus how many cups of the finished cooked applesauce you have.
Make a guess or a prediction and assist your child to see if he is correct.
Try to plant some apple seeds. Bury seeds in some soil in a pot and place the pot so that it gets some sunshine. Be sure to water regularly. Guess how long until the seed sprouts or how long until a leaf is evident? Was the prediction correct?
If you have apple trees in your area, observe when the trees blossom noting the date on a calendar. Predict how long it will be until your child can observe baby apples on the tree. When you first see these baby apples note the date on a calendar. Finally, when is that apple big enough to pick and how long did it take to grow? Was the prediction correct?
Why does the flesh of apples turn brown after they have been cut open and how can this be prevented? Adding lemon juice keeps the flesh from browning. Experiment with other items, such as vinegar (apple cider vinegar?). Does it have the same effect?
Do apple slices sink of float? Experiment with apple slices of different sizes. Try to sink/float a slice of dried apple. What happens?
Apples are significant in the myths or religious traditions of different cultures. Explore apples in Norse, Greek or Christian myths and biblical stories. Think of other stories such as Snow White where an apple plays a key role in the plot. Also, there are many children’s books about apples or stories in which a character seeks or uses an apple to some end. Visit the library and find some of these books and enjoy the stories.
European colonists first brought apples to the United States. Apples were known and grown in Europe for thousands of years, but they originate from plants that were from central Asia. Find Asia on a map and compare to where apples are grown around the world
Find a book about Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed (born John Chapman in Massachusetts in 1774) is an interesting American legend. Not everyone agrees that what he did was so great as he was an itinerant homeless person. If your child enjoys the story, discuss her feelings about Johnny’s actions.
Create apple art. Cut apples in half and dip those halves into tempera paint. Print with those apple slices, touching the surface to a sheet of paper.
Invite your child to cook with you using apples in different recipes or pancakes, breads, cakes, baked, or with meats or other vegetables and in salads. Make a book, or merely keep copies of, favorite recipes with apples.
There are a ton of crafts using apples and you can find these on–line. Create holiday decorations, food items for birds or other animals, or dolls (with shrunken heads).