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People On The Move - Kari Mentonis
06/27/2010 - By Chad A. Safran
MIXING LEARNING AND FUN
For five years, Kari Mentonis taught elementary school in Marlboro. After leaving the classroom to start a family, she missed the environment of education and working with young children. As her three children got older, Kari found herself with free time during the day and needed something positive on which to focus her energy and creativity. The result? She created Common Threads, a hands-on program designed to teach children about different cultures around the world through cooking, art, and music.
Kari, who has a holds a masters degree in education and is a certified reading specialist, spent a year creating over 35 different lessons. Her goal is to help teach children to work cooperatively with others, follow directions, read simple instructions, practice listening skills, interact independently in a social environment, and gain an understanding of the world’s diversity. Each class is developed around a story or fable from another country. Kari then incorporates a recipe from that country and either an art or music project from that same locale to go along with reading the particular story aloud. Social studies, math and science often become part of the recipe of any particular assignment.
“Cooking is the lure, but once they’re here and in the classroom they’re learning so much more through cooking,” says the Brooklyn native who has spent the past 13 years in Marlboro. “They are having so much fun cooking and creating that they do not realize how much they are learning.”
While she has done classes after school for kids up to 13 years old, including both the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, the majority of her participants are 3-6 years old. Upwards of six children come to her Morganville house during the week for sessions which last an hour, sometimes a bit longer. Not only are kids exposed to the cultures of various nations, but Kari also makes sure to include five or six facts about each one as the kids sit on their “magic carpet” while she discusses where they are traveling to during that particular lesson. To complete the adventure/travel idea, Kari gives each student a stamp/sticker in their passport from the day’s country. At the end of each six week session, students receive a personalized parting gift as well.
“The parents love that the kids are coming away with creating something,” says Kari, who willingly accommodates any food allergies that the kids might have. “The parents love that the children are trying things that they’ve never eaten before. They like that they have new recipes to try.” After the class is over, Kari sends an email providing an overview of the experience and posts photos of the activities on the Common Threads website. This way the children and parents can review the information together at any time during the week.
Eventually Kari would love to move the program to a location where she could have a facility with a full-functioning kitchen, an art room, and a music room so the children could rotate to the different classrooms. However, until that moment occurs she revels in the fun and enjoyment of teaching and being with children, while at the same time making improvements to Common Threads. “The first year was a good trial for the program,” she says. “Now I know what lessons work well and which ones could be better, and some that need more than an hour to teach.”
The program has not only helped teach the children about different cultures, but it has also given Kari back a great deal. “I have gained a lot of knowledge about my community, about my neighbors, and about the differences around me,” she says. “I love seeing the children create. I will give them all the same supplies and direction and I will get six different projects. It always amazes me. That’s always rewarding.”
While she does miss being in the classroom on occasion, Kari continues to have so much fun with her program that she will continue with it for the foreseeable future and watch it grow, perhaps even some day doing classes every day. For now though she just takes a cup of learning and some tablespoons of fun to make Common Threads a rewarding experience for everyone.
For more information about Common Threads, you can email Kari at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit commonthreadsnj.ning.com.
Kathy’s Kafe, Marlboro
FAVORITE MUSICAL GROUP
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Chris Van Allsburg, Mario Batali, and my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Fogel
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