by: Diane Flynn Keith
posted: November 6, 2005
Hi! Cranberries are everywhere at this time of year and you can use them to learn all kinds of fun things with your young children. Some of the following information is compiled from a variety of Internet resources. I've included a link where appropriate. I also gleaned lots of helpful facts, trivia, stories and activities about cranberries from these two websites:
While I think most of the activities here will appeal to young children, I leave it up to each parent to determine how much of the information to share with your young children based on their age, ability and interest. Remember that to help your kids love learning - learning should be a joyful process. If you or the kids aren't having fun - don't do it. Put it away, save it for another time, pass the information along to someone else. Do only what works, and get rid of the rest.
Note: Before you begin any activity with cranberries make sure you are wearing old clothes and working in an area that the juice won't stain or ruin.
Some of the materials you will need:
- 1-2 bags of cranberries
- cranberry juice (okay if it's mixed with other juices)
- 1 can prepared cranberry sauce
- dried cranberries
- cranberry bread or muffins (homemade or store-bought)
- bowls, pans
- world globe
Purchase a bag or two of cranberries at the grocery store. Put some in a bowl or a baking pan and show them to your children. Then, do any of the following activities...
Cranberries On The Globe
You can tell them that the cranberry is one of only a few fruits native to North America. Show the kids the North American continent on the globe. Then explain that most cranberries we buy at the store are grown in only five U.S. states - Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Cranberries are also grown in Canada. You can point out these places on the globe too.
Invite them to touch them. Tell them to grasp a handful and let it fall back in the bowl. Have them immerse their entire hand in the cranberries. How does it feel?
Count & Squish the Cranberries
Let them squish some cranberries and show them the cranberry juice. What color is it? Did you know that it takes 4,400 cranberries to make one gallon of juice? How many berries do you have in the bag? Take a guess - estimate how many berries are in the bag. Then, invite your kids to count them. How many were there? Now, imagine 4,400 berries! That's a lot!
Drink Cranberry Juice
If your children have tasted cranberry juice previously - explain that the fresh juice from the berry is quite sour or bitter and is often mixed with sweeter juices or sugar to make it taste better. Pour some prepared cranberry juice and let them compare the flavor with the fresh juice from a squished berry.
Eat A Cranberry
Invite them to taste a fresh cranberry. What do they think? If they don't like the taste, how could they improve the flavor?
Now, invite them to try eating some foods made from or with cranberries including canned cranberry sauce, some dried cranberries (these are generally sweetened and sold in most grocery stores in the same section where you find raisins), and some cranberry bread or baked goods containing cranberries. Ocean Spray has some great recipes for foods containing cranberries. In fact, here's a recipe for Cranberry Bread you can invite your little ones to help you make:
What you will need:
- Cooking spray
- Bread Loaf Pan
- 1 large mixing bowl
- 1 medium mixing bowl
- 2 cups, unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup fresh orange juice without pulp
- 1/4 cup grated orange rind
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 Tablespoons Canola or Vegetable Oil
- 1 cup cranberries (coarsely chopped)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray inside of bread loaf pan with cooking spray, then spray a second time to prevent sticking. In large bowl, mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) together. In medium bowl mix orange juice, orange rind, beaten egg, and oil together. Add to flour mixture and stir just until well-blended. Fold in cranberries.
Put mixture into pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until done. Cool for 5 minutes in bread pan on rack. Then, turn loaf out of pan and allow to complete cooling on rack. When completely cool, place cranberry bread in sealable plastic bag for 12 hours (or overnight). Slice and serve.
Where Do Cranberries Grow?
Ask your kids if they know where cranberries come from. You can explain that some people think cranberries grow in water. But they really grow on low-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. Because cranberries float, the bogs are sometimes flooded with water. The cranberries float on top of the water and it makes it easier to pick or harvest them. Some cranberries are harvested using machines that resemble lawnmowers that sort of "comb" fresh cranberries off the vines.
Would your children like to see for themselves if cranberries float? Get a pan of water and drop in some cranberries. Do they float? Fresh, ripe cranberries have small pockets of air inside that enables them to float. Rotten berries will generally not float. Invite your kids to float all of the cranberries in the bag and sort the fresh, floating cranberries from the rotten, sunken ones.
Cut a cranberry in half. You will see what looks like 4 little pockets in a cross pattern. You can see where the air becomes trapped inside the fresh berry. There are tiny seeds inside as well.
Bounce The Cranberry
Because fresh cranberries have pockets of air inside of them - they bounce! Let your kids try bouncing some cranberries while you tell them this interesting story: "In the 1880s, a New Jersey grower named John 'Peg Leg' Webb discovered that cranberries bounce. Instead of carrying his crop down from the storage loft of his barn, Webb poured them down the steps. He noticed that only the freshest, firmest fruit reached the bottom; rotten or bruised berries didn't bounce and remained on the steps. This discovery led to the invention of 'bounceboards' that are tools used to separate rotten berries from fresh ones."
That was an interesting story and the cranberry has an interesting history...
Long ago, Native Americans mixed deer meat and mashed cranberries to make a long-lasting cake called "pemmican." They used cranberries as medicine to cure infections from arrow wounds. They used the red juice of the cranberry as a dye to color blankets and clothing. The Delaware Indians revered the cranberry as a symbol of peace. Legend has it that Native Americans introduced the Pilgrims to cranberries and they ate them at the first Thanksgiving feast.
What's In A Name?
How did the cranberry get its name? Native Americans had many different names for the berries, but German and Dutch settlers came up with the term "crane berry," because the cranberry blossom resembles the head and bill of a bird called a crane. Eventually, the name was shortened from crane-berry to cranberry.
String Cranberries To Make A Bracelet, Necklace, or Decorations
This activity will require close adult supervision. Some very young children may not have the small motor coordination to do this activity successfully. In that case, children can hand the berries to adults, who can then string the berries with a needle and thread. If your child does have the coordination for this activity, be sure to demonstrate how to use the needle safely and watch carefully to avoid accidental needle pricks.
Take a needle, thread it, and knot the end of the thread. Push the needle and thread all the way through the center of a cranberry, and continue doing that, berry after berry, until your string is full. Tie the ends of the thread together to make a cranberry bracelet or necklace, or tie a knot in the end of the string (without connecting it to the other end of the cranberry string). Then make a new cranberry string. Tie one end of that string with an end of the previously made string to make one long, continuous string. Repeat this process until you have the length required.
Note: For cranberry jewelry you can use a thin-gauge florist wire (available at craft stores) to thread the berries - and avoid using a needle altogether.
- Make a Cranberry Ice Wreath - Directions for a fun winter craft activity that will not only decorate your yard - but provide a snack for your backyard birds!
- Take a Virtual Photo Tour of a Cranberry Bog!
- See a video of a bog and watch a movie of the cranberry harvest.
Hope you have a berry good time!
~Diane Keith - For Unpreschool