Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cooking With Kids

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  It is the central gathering place for family members, a place of warmth where we feel cared for and safe .  Cooking for our family expresses our love for them, as we nourish them with healthy food that enables them to grow, and we nurture them with tastes that bring them pleasure.  Food preparation involves all of our senses: the kitchen fills with aroma; we feel the warmth of the oven; we hear the sounds of boiling or frying or perking (coffee; notice the coffee pots in both pictures); we're given a sample to touch and taste.  These are very soothing sensory experiences, so we feel comforted, secure, at peace.

Involving our children in cooking is so good for them, in so many ways.  At home, children learn the life skills of food preparation and forge a generational connection that will follow  them into adulthood.  Children generally love to be included in the cooking process, and gain a feeling of competence and value as they contribute to the family.  Including children however adds time to the process, so it's not always feasible.  Still, if they start with small tasks they will gain proficiency and be ready to take on more.  The longer we do something the better we get at it.  Even small children can be taught to add ingredients, to wash vegetables, to crack eggs (tap, crack, and use thumbs to separate), to peel and cut, pour and mix. 

I think children gravitate toward preparing their favorite foods.  As a child, it was my job to make the salad.  My mother taught me to tear the lettuce and dribble just enough olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat each piece.  To this day, I make the best salad (just sayin) and never measure.  Her father did all the cooking in their house, and we visited them at least once a week.  My job was to taste the macaroni.  Grandpa would trust me to know when it was ready.  Again, to this day I do not time anything I cook.  I just sort of know when it's done.  In my family, one of my daughters makes the best french fries.  Another is an incredible baker.  And another has a favorite dessert she makes every Passover.  It's a touching experience to eat at their homes, enjoying so many of the foods I normally cook.

Cooking is an integral part of most early childhood classrooms.  It's a wonderful experience for young children who are just learning to separate from their parents, because it evokes homey feelings, fortifying the home-school connection.  It's also a terrific way to learn math and science, as children measure ingredients and observe the changes that occur when foods are mixed and/or cooked.  The caveat to all this learning is that children be allowed to cook independently. Teachers know that children learn by doing, but tend to take over for them when it comes to cooking.   In too many classrooms, I have seen the children watch the teacher measure and mix, while they sit around a table waiting for a turn to stir.  To be effective, cooking should be done in small groups, so that each child has an authentic opportunity to learn.  Children can be taught to follow a recipe, maybe in rebus form (with pictures).  They can learn to measure, to cut, to mix, to pour, etc.  School supply stores sell child-size utensils for cooking.  A good one is, a Montessori catalogue. 

Children are most often recipients.  We do a lot for them.  Teaching them to cook allows them to become givers.  It feels good to give, to be generous, to be loving, to be needed.  Opening the doors to giving is a precious gift to children.  Mix in the sensory experiences of preparing foods, and the math, science, and reading lessons is pretty much the ideal teaching tool!

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