The holidays are here! (Has a whole year really gone by that quickly?) No doubt you have a seemingly endless list of chores and errands on your calendar. Wash this, dust that, straighten this room, etc.
In the midst of the holidays, it’s difficult to find time to educate your children. With so many other things to do, how can you possibly find any more time to teach them every day skills — like how to organize their room, vacuum the rug, or wipe down a cabinet?
Thankfully, you do not have to make more time! The holidays are full of endless opportunities to teach your children. When kids are able to relate a lesson to a tangible, real-life situation, learning not only becomes easier, but also more fun!
One simple holiday task your children can help you with is cooking meals. Kids can help out in the kitchen all-year long, as long as the activities are appropriate. But the holidays bring additional opportunities to cook and bake, as well as dozens of recipes unique to the season. Family cooking is truly a bonding experience.
Here are 5 lessons that kids can learn while cooking in the kitchen:
First and foremost, cooking is a reading lesson. Unless you have your recipes memorized, you will need to consult a cookbook. With millions of printed cookbooks and recipes available online, it’s easy to find something your family can make together. Kid-friendly cookbooks offer simple recipes that require little to no supervision. For more complicated recipes involving the stove, be sure you are there to supervise.
When you decide on a recipe, sit down and read the entire recipe together, including the ingredient list. This may take some time, but it’s a great way to let your child practice. Afterward, test your child’s comprehension and see what they remember. If they forget something, reread the recipe. Work together to gather the ingredients — your child can read them off and you can collect them. Then complete the steps together one-by-one.
Basic math knowledge is an essential skill when you’re working in the kitchen. Recipes call for a variety of measurements involving fractions. Cooks can have a little bit more flexibility in the kitchen when it comes to following a recipe. A few extra carrots will not make or break a recipe. Bakers, however, need to follow recipes exactly because a slight adjustment could dramatically change the dessert.
Even if your child is too young to understand fractions, you can still teach them how to measure properly. Use the blunt side of a butter knife to even off the tops of measuring cups and spoons. Compare measuring cups using descriptive words like “bigger” and “more”. If your child can recognize numbers, have them read the ingredient and match the numbers in the recipe to the appropriate cup or spoon. You can easily introduce your young chef to basic fractions at an early age.
When you are cooking or baking, you are literally conducting science experiments. “What will happen if I add two eggs to the flour?” This may be a hard concept for young children to grasp, but it’s a fun one. Every time they walk into the kitchen, they are creating something new.
The kitchen is a great place to create a hypothesis and develop some predictions. Ask your child what he/she thinks will happen when you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Before scooping batter on to the tray, have your child predict how many cookies the batter will make.
My mother had me in the kitchen before I was in preschool. We worked together baking holiday treats for our family. I remember learning two important science lessons at a very early age: 1. Always have the stand mixer on low before adding the flour; and 2. You cannot substitute baking powder for baking soda. My family has dozens of amusing kitchen mishap stories that we still love to share as adults. Science experiments gone wrong — with hilarious results!
You are never too young to be safe, especially in the kitchen. More accidents occur in the home than anywhere else. Before your little chef starts peeling potatoes, it is important you take the time to review proper safety procedures. Sit down and discuss these rules together so your child will understand the importance of them.
For starters, wash your hands before you begin and any time you work with something messy. Review when to wash hands and be sure long hair is pulled back. You can never wash your hands too many times when you are in the kitchen. Until you feel your child is old enough, have him/her ask for your permission before using the stove, the oven, or any electric equipment. (Remember to turn appliances off after you’re done.)
With practice, a preschooler can learn the proper way to hold and use a butter knife. Have your child spread butter on their grilled cheese sandwich or chop up a boiled egg. As they get older, you can introduce harder challenges — like cutting tough vegetables or cuts of meat. At that time, you can also talk about cross-contamination and why you don’t use the same cutting board for your meat and produce.
As with any activity, it is important to clean up afterward. This is especially true in the kitchen where an accident can be caused by just about anything. Be smart and stay safe by cleaning up after you’re done. This is a wonderful lesson in responsibility. In order to cook, you have to clean up your mess.
Save yourself time by cleaning pots and bowls as you use them. Don’t let everything pile up until the last minute. Never put a kitchen knife into a sink of soapy water. (You won’t be able to see it.) Use warm water and plenty of soap, then towel dry your supplies and put them away. Wipe down counters with a safe disinfectant spray and sweep the floor.
Cooking is a wonderful activity that truly brings the family together. Spend time together this holiday season to whip up a batch of grandma’s famous cookies or your uncle’s favorite casserole. There are thousands of learning experiences hidden in every day activities. Don’t let them pass you by!