Do your kids help in the kitchen? Have you thought about all the different skills you are teaching your kids when cooking together? Obviously, learning to make food for themselves (and hopefully the whole family) is one, but they can also strengthen their fine-motor, direction following, math, reading, science, and safety skills! In fact, if you homeschool your children, I think one cooking session could be equal to a whole day’s worth of academics. Cooking is also a great multi-sensory activity and the more senses engaged in a learning activity, the more connections made in the brain!
Note: If you cooking with your kids makes your eye twitch, read this post: Eight Stress-Reducing Tips for Cooking with Kids
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Preschool children spend a lot of time refining their fine-motor skills, but this refinement continues into the elementary school years, too. Cooking provides lots of opportunities regardless of the age. Here are a few:
- Pouring liquids or powders improves graded movement, which is how much force a child uses when moving. Pouring to a specific place on a measuring cup will help them learn to slow down the movement to just the right speed.
- Scooping ingredients and then transferring to a measuring cup or bowl will help children practice eye-hand coordination.
- Harder tasks such as breaking squares of baking chocolate apart or cracking eggs will target hand strength and dexterity.
- When you are ready to let your children handle knives, this will add a whole other level to their fine-motor skills. There are many videos on YouTube that can help your children get started with knives.
There are several ways to target direction following depending on the age and reading skills of the child.
- For younger children, simple verbal directions about scooping, pouring and mixing ingredients is appropriate.
- As children develop their language and attention skills, you can give them directions that lead them away from the immediate cooking area. Have them get specific ingredients from the pantry or bowls and utensils from cabinets. As they improve their ability to follow directions, add more steps or complexity to the directions to keep that development going!
- Reading the exact recipe directions step by step to your children and then explaining as needed will prepare children to become more independent in their cooking skills.
- Once a child’s reading skills have developed, you can have them read each step in the recipe themselves. At first, you may need to cue them as to which step they are on, but as they become more skilled, you can decrease the level of support you give them.
Cooking is a great way to put those developing reading skills to work. It can also be a great way to motivate a ‘reluctant reader’ to work on reading skills in a less traditional way.
- For a newer reader, you can target reading at the word level by giving directions to find certain ingredients in the pantry or set out on the counter.
- You can put a more developed reader in charge of reading you the recipe step by step.
- With a proficient reader, you can target comprehension skills by having them read the recipe to themselves and work as independently as possible making the recipe. Having a recipe turn out poorly will leave a lasting impression in one’s mind of the importance of careful reading. I may or may not have had an inedible chocolate cake experience growing up that taught me this lesson!
- Cooking also will expose your children to a variety of new vocabulary words. Being able to put the meanings to use immediately will help your children remember their meanings later on.
There are SO MANY math skills you can target while cooking. Let’s just look at a few:
- Counting: With young children, it may be enough to just count ingredients as you add them to the bowl.
- Measuring: whether you are measuring with teaspoons or measuring cups, you have a great opportunity for talking about fractions. You may keep it simple with parts of a whole or you could discuss equivalent fractions. With my oldest, instead of using a bunch of different measuring cups or spoons, I will pull out a smaller one, such as 1/4 of a cup, and have him use it to also measure 1/2 cup, a whole cup, etc.
- You can also work in multiplication and division into your cooking discussions. Doubling or halving a recipe is a great way to do that.
- Explain the difference between volume shown in fluid ounces and ounces representing weight and how to tell the difference on the package. I know adults who struggle with this still!
There are many biology and chemistry concepts one can introduce or review when cooking.
- For younger children, you can keep it simple and talk about where eggs and milk come from, the difference between root vegetables and other vegetables, or how flour is ground from wheat.
- We started talking about macro and micro-nutrients at a fairly young age: we like to do a quick review of good fats are good for the brain, protein is good for your muscles, carbohydrates give you energy and vitamins and minerals keep you healthy. We also discuss foods without nutritional value such as sugar and bad fats. This topic can become as complex as you would like as children get older.
- Cooking is a good time to discuss states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas.
- You can discuss chemical reactions such as the purpose of baking soda and even experiment by making muffins with and without baking soda and comparing.
- If you want to dive deep into science in cooking, Culinary Reactions is a great book.
Cooking offers immediate consequences if you don’t think before you act, a skill that is a challenge for some people around my house! So, it is the perfect activity to discuss common safety rules, such as:
- Don’t touch something that might be hot without protection.
- Do not put things near an open flame besides pots and pans.
- How to light a gas stove, what the smell of gas is like and what to do if you smell it.
I am sure we could go on and on with this list! What else would you add? Let us know below.
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