One of my crowning culinary and pedagogical triumphs was in my second year of teaching. I was teaching 5th grade at the time, and we were culminating a wonderful fantasy reading and writing unit. Kids’ book baggies were filled with different fantasy novels, they were writing their own amazing fantasy stories (with portals, heroes, and quests), and they were working really hard to grasp the concept of symbolism.
My favorite way to introduce symbolism was by drawing a red octagon on the dry erase board. Everyone knows that as a symbol for STOP, and therefore, everyone has an entry point into understanding symbolism.
Our read aloud for the fantasy unit was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The kids absolutely loved it both years I used it. It is a riveting tale and a lot of fun to read together. If you’ve never read it, I won’t ruin the story. Suffice to say, though, the book drips with symbolism: winter, spring the color white, dawn, and Christmas are all powerful symbols that require some major thinking that rewards the reader with a really powerful experience.
When we finished our fantasy unit, we celebrated with cupcakes that I baked for the class. The kids were dying to eat them, but I wouldn’t allow it until they could figure out the symbols I had “hidden” in the colors and ingredients of the cupcakes.
The icing was yellow and covered in silver and green sprinkles. The cake itself was a deep red. These were all symbols for fantasy stories or elements, I told them. With that, they had to work together to figure it out. No symbols? No eating!
Soon enough, and probably with some help from me, they figured out the symbols. The yellow icing was representative of our beloved Aslan, the lion The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The silver sprinkles represented winter and cold (ie. the White Witch and her followers) while the green sprinkles represented grass and spring (pertinent to the book). The red cake was generally interpreted as blood (hey, fantasy is rarely clean and simple), and we agreed to consider it dragon blood.
The cupcakes were from a box, but with a little extra effort they became something really special that I still remember nearly three years later. That was a fun day.