Facilitating learning activities for your kids can feel corny. How can you entertain your kids and maintain their interest while also teaching them? Our mind often jumps to elaborate multi-step science experiments, but there are even more practical and subtle ways to execute learning activities. Believe it or not, the answer lies in your kitchen! Cooking lessons are chock-full of opportunities to talk about science and math while learning how to prepare food! With the holidays approaching, there’s never been a better time to bust out your apron and a cookbook and turn your kitchen into a classroom.
In my opinion, math is the most abundant of all academic subjects in cooking. Even cooler, the math lesson can start long before any cooking does. For instance, you can flip through a cookbook with your child and choose a recipe or two you plan to make. You can task your child by compiling a list of ingredients that you’ll need from the grocery store. Upon arrival, you can use your grocery list to have your child budget your shopping trip. In order to incentivize critical thought, you can tell your child that any surplus in your budget can be spent on toppings like sprinkles for your cookies or chocolate chips for your waffles. This will encourage kids to think deeply and analytically about their expenses and walk out carrying elementary math calculations.
Once you’re home and ready to start cooking, you can spark up a conversation about the number of servings your recipe produces. Ask your child, should we double or halve the recipe? How will that change the ingredient measurements? Simple, natural conversations like these inspire thought about equivalent fractions and proportions and describe common computations in their curriculum.
Science is what makes cooking possible, literally. There are nearly as many opportunities to start a scientific dialogue with your child while cooking as there is math. However, you may need to plan your activity a bit more. In the most general sense, following a recipe is similar to the methodology underpinning science experiments, with the goal of altering the chemical or physical characteristics of our ingredients.
For younger children, you can keep your activities fairly simple. Ingredients offer a cornucopia of specimens for observation. Plant science lessons can revolve around examining actual tomatoes, apples, and carrots, and describing the differences and similarities. Fruits and veggies also offer neat structures of roots and leaves for study. The fun with food doesn’t need to stop there, an egg could be a model of a cell, and Thanksgiving turkey could be your own personal cadaver, the possibilities are endless!
You may be able to get more sophisticated lessons for older students. Some topics like density, which can be covered whenever observations on buoyancy are possible, might pop up without too much trouble. However, richer conversations around things like chemical reactions may take a bit more deliberate effort. Chemical reactions are no doubt common throughout many recipes, but you may want to do some additional research to guide your conversation. For example, you might be able to explain that yeast or baking sodas are what makes your dough rise, but a quick Google search could allow you to expand the conversation. if not, you could always encourage your child to figure it out and have them explain it to you.
English lessons may require more creativity to incorporate into cooking, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Every Christmas growing up, my family and I would read the Night Before Christmas. Although the book felt like it took eons to read, my brother and I kept our eye on the prize because we knew what was coming after. In order to make sure all the reindeers made it to our house, we would fish out our recipe for “reindeer food.” Having just read the story and seen images of reindeer, the mission of mixing our glitter and oatmeal had never seemed more important. With a little creativity a book like Green Eggs and Ham, or How to Eat Fried Worms could be turned into a proper three-course meal.
There is no shortage of options when it comes to a history-cooking lesson. Food has long been a record of historical events, cultural identity, and even language. Of course, some meals, like Thanksgiving, are deeply entrenched in history and lore. However, nearly any dish could be served as a three-course lesson, with your kids certain to be asking for seconds. For younger students, themed meals or dishes are an exciting way to interweave customs and traditions from around the globe. Perhaps this Monday you’ll “travel” to Italy for ravioli and gelato, or India for chicken tikka masala and naan. You can also leverage your escapades as co-chefs to learn about your lineage. It may be cliché, but rich historical context and traditions are passed down over family recipes. I can remember so vividly making pierogis with my grandmother while she told me about the horn used to stuff kielbasa or fleeing Poland under socialist rule. In a funny way, sharing these recipes and stories is a way to teach your kid, while preserving your genealogy.