I have distinct memories of whenever my mother baked or cooked during my childhood always having a chair pulled over to the end of our kitchen counter. Atop my wooden perch, I was strategically located to offer assistance with the hand mixer, assemble the lasagna layers (often dipping mozzarella in my mom’s homemade pasta sauce – this was before mozzarella sticks were a thing) or to sneak the occasional spoonful (or two or three) of cookie dough. Fast forward a few, well, decades, and anytime I am in the kitchen, I find myself similarly surrounded by my two girls.
Aside from teaching about food, sharing family recipes, and just spending time together, baking and cooking with my girls offers a great way for me to play an active part in their learning. There are the obvious benefits of teaching your kids about process and following instructions, but baking and cooking with your kids is an excellent way to reinforce math, reading, and science concepts. Admittedly, this wasn’t necessarily an intentional decision on my part, but somewhere along the way, I found myself talking and instructing my older daughter as we would bake and cook together. Here are some ways that I capitalize on this time that we spend together to expand their learning … and make dinner to boot!
- Simple Counting – If a recipe calls for more than one of an ingredient, we count out that particular ingredient both when we gather all of the ingredients together as part of our prep work and whenever it is added when we are actually baking and cooking.
- Adding and Subtracting – Expanding on simple counting, now that my oldest is a little bit older, she has a basic understanding of addition and subtraction, which I reinforce as we add ingredients from the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for three eggs, after I add one to the mixing bowl, I will ask her how many we have left to add to the bowl.
- Fractions – Measuring out ingredients is a great way to introduce the concept of fractions to your kids, which shouldn’t be too surprising since pie (not to be confused with pi) frequently makes an appearance in math books. Recently, using our measuring cups, I introduced to my oldest the concept of half by explaining that a 1/2 cup is half of the quantity in the full cup.
- Reading – My oldest is definitely on the cusp of starting to read. She is super interested in letters and spelling – she often asks what letter a word starts with and then will draw that letter in the air. Now, when we are cooking, I put the recipe in front of her and point out the words in the recipe as we read it together, ask her to find words that start with a certain letter, or ask her to spell out certain words while we are reading.
Chemistry – Yes, chemistry. Baking and cooking are fantastic ways to visually demonstrate many concepts in chemistry, such as mixing, phase changes, and even chemical reactions. When we are adding ingredients together, I will ask my daughter what she thinks will happen when we mix everything together (for example, will it be smooth or will it be lumpy; will we be able to see some of the ingredients or will everything be all mixed together) or what will happen when we bake, heat or freeze something. Just the other day, I actually found myself attempting to explain melting points when she asked me why the coconut oil was solid and wasn’t cold. That concept might take a little while …
So, the next time fixing dinner seems like a chore, turn it into a fun, family time for learning. Do you have any tips or tricks when cooking with your kids?