University of Vermont John Dewey Kitchen Institute

News Education

Cooking with Intention and Mindfulness at the John Dewey Kitchen Institute

Share this post

Marcela Lahaie is figuring out how to teach her young preschool students about using their senses and being present.

Since completing the UVM John Dewey Kitchen Institute last summer, she’s been finding ways to encourage “learning by doing” in her pre-K classroom.

She recently cooked apple sauce with a group of children. The process not only meant peeling apples and measuring sugar and cinnamon, but also asking her students to be in the moment.

“That meant touching, smelling, and eating the apples,” Lahaie says. “Even though the children were all familiar with apples, it was important for them to use their senses.”

UVM John Dewey Kitchen Institute
Marcela Lahaie at UVM

Taught by UVM Continuing and Distance Education Dean Cynthia Belliveau and Dewey scholar Lisa Heldke, the John Dewey Kitchen Institute emphasizes the pedagogical power of the kitchen. In the three-day summer program, students from around the country come to UVM to learn how to use cooking to teach any topic within a framework of collaboration and cooperation.

“My preschool is a child-led, inquiry-based school, meaning we focus on the children’s interests,” Lahaie says. “Cooking was one of the children’s inquiries as they were playing pretend cooking. So I found a way to tie their interests and curiosity into real cooking by making apple sauce.”

Dewey, a noted a philosopher and educator, was born in Burlington and earned his undergraduate degree from UVM in 1879. He believed that food was a central vehicle for teaching critical, intuitive thinking, and unifying knowledge with experience. His main approach to teaching was “learning by doing.”

Founded by John Dewey, the original Dewey School formed in the early 1900’s, was an experimental laboratory of education, which included a kitchen lab.  The Dewey School tenets included education as a practice of democracy and learning by doing.

Lahaie, who is originally from Brazil, came to the program without much cooking experience. Over the course of three days in June, she made quiche, grilled cheese, and rice and beans.

“I’m not very confident about cooking. I was intrigued and curious to see how the program’s instructors would relate Dewey’s theory of practice with cooking,” she says. “It was a very joyful experience and made me reflect upon ways we can be intentional, especially in the classroom.”


Participants in the UVM John Dewey Kitchen Institute will:

  • Gain an understanding of the complex dynamics of practical and theoretical learning within an experiential setting.
  • Learn strategies for incorporating the Dewey Tenets into teaching.
  • Experience cooking, tasting, and eating as a way to learn about inquiry.
  • Develop critical-thinking exercises that can be applied in the classroom.

For Dewey, cooking was a central vehicle for teaching. Cooking, eating, and conversing in a social setting were key ingredients for educating young members of society into a life of inquiry and community participation.

“One thing the program taught me about is mindfulness. Cooking gives you the opportunity to slow down and be mindful,” Lahaie says. “It’s important to use your senses and pay attention to ordinary moments that sometimes we don’t really value.”

Learn about the UVM John Dewey Kitchen Institute