“Why is corn used as a decoration in the fall in the United States?” asked a student’s grandmother. She is originally from Estonia where she said seasonal decorative include straw weavings, hung as symbols to bring a good harvest in the next year. I don’t know when it became popular to hang ears of multicolored corn (Zea mays) as decoration in the United States but it may come from the harvesting of dried corn in the fall. Whatever the origin of this decoration, as symbols of a good harvest, or wishes for such in the coming year, by decorating with varieties that don’t usually appear on our plates we expose children to a variety of corn ears. The variety in corn is interesting to children and prepares them to study genetics when they are older. Worldwide, the word “corn” can refer to any local grain. (The photo at right is from the photo gallery at the Agricultural Research Service website.)
Young children love to ‘dissect’ ears of fresh or dried corn and can learn new words while learning plant structure—first the husk, then the silk, then the harder job of picking the kernels off the cob. Place a variety of dried corn cobs in a bin or sensory table and allow children to take them apart. See the November issue of Science and Children to read about examining and measuring corn ears in The Early Years column.
Maybe in the spring you’ll plant Zea mays with your class.