Thinking with Carrot Peels

We notice the bright, orange carrot peels sitting in the large food waste pile.

We gather them into a bowl.

Carrot peels are gingerly pulled from the food scrap pile and move through the children’s fingers.

Children carefully flatten the peels into long, thin strips, creating different forms and designs. Peels are wrapped around fingers, hands, and arms. Some become blankets for dolls.

After we return from lockdown, there are no peels in the classroom. So, we peel the carrots that we find in our fridge. We are left with a bunch of peels but also peeled carrots that we do not want to waste. We decide to gift them back to Bob to add them to our meals. He is excited to see what we found out about peeling and invite us to show him.

We use quick, short motions, creating many little pieces of peel. Sarah gets long, thin pieces using slow and deliberate movements. We are excited to keep the scraps and bring them to the classroom.

with carrot peels

We invite children to follow the lines and designs they create with the carrot peels. Carrot peels and pencils engage in conversation. The movements of the peelings and the pencils shift back and forth as pencils trace peels and as peels follow pencil lines.

Stories emerge and lines blur.

“The line follows the carrots. No, the carrots follow the line, because the carrot comes on the line.” Susan

We bring Susan’s question to the large group. As the children share ideas about the carrot peels and the pencil lines, Jacob notices that one of the pencil lines made a circle, not a line, and she asks: “How do you make a circle with the carrots?”

Shifting from lines to circles is not an easy task.

“Pinch the two ends of the carrot peel together.” Jill

“If you break the peels into smaller pieces and lay them out on the ground side to side, you can make a circle.” Laura

“First, you make a number nine, then roll it on itself until it is completely rolled.” Sarah

“When the
peels stand on
their sides and
are placed
close together,
they curl up
into a circle.”

“We draw a circle with a pencil first.” Sarah

“The pencil circle stays, but the carrot circle won’t. There are gaps.” Charlotte

“It’s not a 100% circle.” Sarah

“We could take little pieces of carrots and use them to fill in the holes, because that way the carrot pieces then touch.” Sarah

We try Sarah’s suggestion, but notice that the carrot peel ends do not stick together. The problem intensifies as the paper moves. The carrot peels don’t stay in place and the big circle is lost.

We invite the children to think collectively about creating a circle with carrot peels. We decide to share the difficult task and draw a big circle using carrot peels.

The peels are stretched flat and placed end to end. As one child finishes carefully placing a peel, another moves in with another peel. Children struggle with the circular design and with joining peels end to end in a closed loop.

We brainstorm how to join the peels to create a big circle.

“We have to add water to the string so it will stick.” Susan

Sewing a circle with
carrot peels

We separate the thread into thin strands. Trying to push the thread through the needle requires a great deal of care. We learn to wet the ends of the thread so that they don’t fray when they hit the edges of the tiny hole. Collectively we write instructions to remember the process:

Put the string on the needle
Put the carrot on the needle and it goes all the way down
Put the needle on the string
(in the needle’s hole)

An instructional video helps us through the process.

Using slow movements, the children delicately push the needle into the carrot peel and quickly reach underneath to pull it through.

Laura and Jill slowly weave the needle and thread in and out of
one single peel.

“The trickiest part is stopping before the thread is pulled all the way out.”

“Sewing will take a long time.” Sarah

Children push
individual carrot peels onto the needle, piercing them and pushing them down the thread. Each peel layers onto the next until the thread is covered.

We return to the connected carrot peels each day, adding more peels and still trying to sew a big circle.

After a week, we notice that the carrot peels left on the counter become dry and crunchy.

Their transformation affects the
sewing process , making it almost
impossible to create a big circle.

Given the delicacy of the dry carrot peels, Susan suggests that we bring other food scraps. We add thick lettuce leaves hoping that they will not dry like the carrot shavings.

“Circle keeps changing and the circle becomes smaller and smaller.” Susan

We become curious about the changes that take place. We bring large pieces of tracing paper and every day we trace where the circle is, each marking showing the circle movements.

After a few weeks, we have several sheets of paper with records of the shrinking circle. We carefully place one on top of the other to notice the daily transformations of the food scrap circle.

The circle forms quickly with lettuce leaves.

But with each passing day we notice that the lettuce, like the carrot peels, is changing in shape and size.

Through the process of tracing the food scrap circle, we find an unexpected protagonist in the lettuce and on the paper underneath: mould.

“It was old so it got mould You can’t still use it” John
“The carrots weren’t made from mould” Anna
“The mould was coming from the jar” Cory
“The mould came from the big onion and got on the paper” Susan
“It came from the compost because it’s stinky” Cory
“You can just wash it off” John
“Get another paper and make another circle” Amy

“We should wash off the mould with water.” Susan
“We need to dab off the mould on the lettuce with the water too.” Susan

When wiping the lettuce leaf
does not work, Susan offers:

“We should untie the
lettuce from our circle by
cutting the string.”

“We should put it into a
jar, like the onion group
did with the big onion.
Then we can keep
looking at it, but it does
not put mould on
anything else.”