World on a Plate: Brazil


On our gourmet visit to Brazil, we had Patricia Borelli come in to teach us about the beautiful country’s food. This is what she had to say:

“Brazilian culture is a mix of native tribal, Portuguese and African traditions. It’s a very big country with regional differences in culture and cooking, but overall there is a lot of meat and fish traditional dishes such feijoada, barbecue, fish and seafood on the coast; and regional sauces and seasonings.

Brazil is a tropical country and has plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables all year long. Now, our family is also vegetarian and with Italian background, so we do cook like Italians as well.

At school we cooked fried okras with lime (crunchy and great for spring weather), and we made a vegetable pie with sliced potatoes, zucchinis, colored carrots, mascarpone cheese and sharp cheddar (nutmeg and thyme to season).

The kids helped wash potatoes and slice carrots and cut okras.”

Thank you Patricia!

Read: ‘Vitamin N’ by Richard Louv


As we’ve mentioned before, the work of Richard Louv is one of our biggest inspirations and influences. So we’re very excited about his latest book, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life.

These are the top 10 reasons Louv believes children – and adults – need more time out in nature, getting their dose of Vitamin N:

  1. The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. We have a human right to a meaningful connection to nature, and we have the responsibilities that come with that right. Few today would question the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the Internet. We should also have access to the natural world, because that connection is part of our humanity.

  2. Humans are hard-wired to love and need exposure to the natural world. Researchers have found that regardless of culture people gravitate to images of nature, especially the savannah. Our inborn affiliation for nature may explain why we prefer to live in houses with particular views of the natural world.

  3. We suffer when we withdraw from nature. Australian professor Glenn Albrecht, director of the Institute of Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, has coined the term solastalgia. He combined the Latin word solacium (comfort — as in solace) and the Greek root – algia (pain) to form solastalgia, which he defines as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault.”

  4. Nature brings our senses alive. Scientists recently found that humans have the ability to track by scent alone. Some humans rival bats in echolocation or biosonar abilities. Military studies show that some soldiers in war zones see nuances others miss, and can spot hidden bombs; by and large these tend to be rural or inner city soldiers, who grew up more conscious of their surroundings.

  5. Individuals and businesses can become nature smart. Spending more time outdoors nurtures our “nature neurons” and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.

  6. Nature heals. Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalizations, less need for pain medications, and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of brick.

  7. Nature can reduce depression and improve psychological well-being. Researchers in Sweden have found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting feel more restored and less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who burn the same amount of calories jogging in a built urban setting.

  8. Nature builds community bonds. Levels of neurochemicals and hormones associated with social bonding are elevated during animal-human interactions. Researchers at the University of Rochester report that exposure to the natural environment leads people to nurture close relationships with fellow human beings, value community, and to be more generous with money.

  9. Nature bonds families and friends. New ways are emerging to make that bond, such as family nature clubs, through which multiple families go hiking, gardening or engage in other outdoor activities together. In the U.K., families are forming “green gyms,” to bring people of all ages together to do green exercise.

  10. The future is at stake. The natural world’s benefits to our cognition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us, but that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.

World on a Plate: Finland

Last week, Lucy’s mom Jodi came in to help us prepare a delicious Finnish lunch. Here’s a note from Jodi, telling us a little more about her beautiful country and its food:

The diet [in Finland] is defined by both climate and geography – it’s what you would expect of an extremely northern country with little growing season and many lakes.

(The northern parts sit above the Arctic Circle)  

So we eat lots of root vegetables, smoked fish and reindeer! Cold climates aren’t conducive to tree fruits, which need a long growing season and don’t deal well with periods of thaw and re-frost. But berries such as strawberries, blueberries and lingonberries as well as other foragibles like mushrooms grow in abundance. As do hardy whole grains, like barley.

At Elements, we made riisipiirakka (rice pie)  – a very traditional Finnish dish. The filling is a riisipuuro (rice pudding) in a rye crust. It’s traditionally served with a hard-boiled egg/butter mix, and then we had carrots as our root vegetable.

Interesting side fact: Indian spices are also “native” to Finnish cooking. Due to our Viking heritage, spices have been coming to Scandinavia since the middle ages and incorporated in a lot of traditional recipes. Cardamom, for instance, is used in many baked goods and breads.

Thank you for spending time in the Elements kitchen, Jodi, and introducing the students to a whole new country through its food.

Why Kids + Music = Magic


At Elements, the students love their time spent listening to music. It’s wonderful to watch how they respond to tunes.  And it’s even better when they can join in.

This video tells us how music benefits a young child’s brain:

And this one tells us why learning to play an instrument is even better:

More Resources:

Good Music Brighter Children: Simple and Practical Ideas to Help Transform Your Child’s Life Through the Power of Music by Sharlene Habermeyer 

The Mozart Effect for Children: Awakening Your Child’s Mind, Health, and Creativity with Music by Don Campbell

Music from the Trenches: Everything you need to know to ensure a rich musical life for your children by Mary Jane Wilkie 

Why you must cook with kids


Not all kids like leafy green vegetables, but by encouraging our students to help make their lunch of pasta with kale, we got them to eat it, too. Staying involved in making a meal is fun and very beneficial.

This story in The New York Times lists these five advantages to having your kids in the kitchen, and we agree with each one of them:

Children who cook become children who taste, and sometimes eat.
Involving children in the process of cooking — picking out the watermelons and tomatoes and plucking the herbs to add to a tomato and watermelon salad, for example — greatly increases the chance that they’ll actually try the finished dish. And hey, they may discover a new favorite. Or not. But cultivating a welcoming and open-minded approach to food can grow adults who approach life similarly. Arms open and mouth wide to new tastes, cultures and attitudes.

Children who cook say “I can,” not “I can’t.”
Sliding a spoonful of raw chicken or a piece of breaded fish into hot oil (as K J’s children did making ketchup chicken and an outdoor fish fry)? Daunting. Making dinner for six people at age 9 (A 9-Year-Old Makes Pasta With Tomatoes and Mushrooms)? Intimidating. A child who can do those can look at any restaurant dish and say, “I could make that.” That’s an attitude that can carry a child beyond the kitchen.

Cooking is a way to talk about health.
Experts say that the single most important thing you can do for your health is to cook at home. Inviting children into the kitchen and involving them at a very young age fosters a habit that will have lifelong benefits. Also, it gives you an opportunity to discuss with a 3-year-old how fish (like broiled fish with chermoula) can help make you smart (fatty acids), how “eating a rainbow” ensures that you get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and how eating plenty of fresh vegetables and drinking lots of water will “keep your poop from hurting when it comes out.”

Cooking is a way to talk about healthy ingredients.
Children who have made ice cream and caramel (like strawberry-rhubarb ice cream with a caramel swirl) know what is supposed to be in ice cream. They know they didn’t add any guar gum. If they’ve made no-knead bread, they’ll know that good bread doesn’t need sugar. When you flip over packages in the grocery store, they’ll understand that you’re looking for things you can’t pronounce, and they’ll join you. (They may, in fact, police your shopping more than you’d like.)

Cooking brings cooks of all ages closer.
For better or worse, you will get to know your children, and they you, more deeply when you cook with them. For better, you will share recipes, techniques and anecdotes that you learned at the elbows of mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers long gone. For worse, you will huff and puff and whine and lose your patience when they accidentally spill heavy cream all over the kitchen table while making mini-shortcakes with berries, but they will love you anyway, teaching you, the one who’s supposed to be the grown-up, about unconditional love and ready forgiveness.


Resources: The kids’ guide to NYC

We are fans of Joanna Goddard’s fantastic blog, A Cup of Jo. So we were thrilled when she posted her adorable kids’ guide to NYC!

Here it is: Toby and Anton’s Guide to NYC, and we have a bunch of favourites on the list.


The first and second images are of the Natural History Museum and Teardrop Park, both via A Cup of Jo. The third of Wonder Wheel is via Jessie Essex

What are your kids’ favourite NYC spots? Head over to Facebook and tell us!

Resource: Let’s play!


Playing is not an activity that should be restricted to certain hours of the day, or certain days of the week.

We need kids to play because it’s more than just a fun way to keep them busy. It helps them motivate themselves. When kids play games, by themselves or with others, they develop skills such as curiosity and begin thinking out of the box.

This video explains some of the benefits that play-based learning holds, and we agree with each one of them:


What we can learn from Finland

Finland has a history of producing the highest global test scores in the Western world, as well as a trophy case full of other recent No. 1 global rankings, including most literate nation.

In Finland, children don’t receive formal academic training until the age of seven. Until then, many are in day care and learn through play, songs, games and conversation. Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest. School hours are short and homework is generally light.

Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.”

We loved reading this piece on why Finland has the best schools.

It rings so true to  much of our philosophy at Elements –

  • more time spent outdoors, learning about the world
  • lots of creative and physical activity
  • using activities to teach basic concepts
  • unstructured time to allow children the space to tap into their innate curiosity & creativity
  • a lot of emphasis on nature, emotional intelligence and helping build skills such as resilience, compassion, etc

This video compares the Finnish and American systems of education, and it’s fascinating:

Come on over to our Facebook page, and tell us what you think of the article and/or the video. We’d love to hear your thoughts.


More classes: After-School & My Grown-up and Me


My Grown-up & Me Classes

For Discoverers, aged 13 – 22 months

As an urban nature preschool, Elements believes in introducing children to the outdoors, encouraging them to engage with the natural world.

Apart from lots of fun outdoor free play, kids spend time in our garden, helping care for our organic produce.

This program engages the growing curiosity of the child, and helps develop important emotional and physical skills.

Every Tuesday from 10 to 11am
For 7 classes from 3 May to 14 June, 2016: $350

For Explorers, aged 23 to 32 months

Children in this age group are very curious and eager to run around, engaging with the world and people around them.

We build on the curriculum for Discoverers, adding in yoga and cooking to channel the child’s energy. There will be lots of time spent outdoors, learning about the natural world through each activity.

In the module on cooking and food, kids will also spend time in our organic garden, learning about the life of plants, and where food comes from.

Every Friday from 10 to 11 am
For 7 classes from 5 May to 16 June, 2016: $350

After-school classes

For Adventurers, aged 2.5 to 4 years

For our little Adventurers, classes outdoor free play and creative projects.

Aside from learning and playing in our beautiful backyard, classes will include time spent in the kitchen, helping prepare snacks using our home-grown produce.

Every Monday & Thursday from 3.30 to 4.30pm
From 12 May to 30 June, 2016: $50 per class

For more information, and to register for these classes, please contact us on: