Cooking & Learning With Young Children

By Paula Evenson
4-C Training Specialist

Have you ever stopped to think how much a child can learn from a cooking experience? With a little extra thought and planning you can make an already fun activity into a deep learning experience. So often when we are planning learning activities we are focused on one learning area such as “math” or “science” that we forget that we can actually choose activities that incorporate several learning concepts with just one activity. Cooking projects are a great way to do this. The following information may be shared with parents to reinforce learning at home. Consider the following possibilities….

Fine Motor Skill Development- Children can use plastic knives to cut soft solid foods such as hot dogs, butter, rolls of dough, some fruits and veggies, and more. Other examples of using fine motor skills could include rolling dough with a rolling pin, patting brown sugar firmly into a measuring cup, using a plastic knife to level off a measurement, spreading peanut butter or cream cheese, pouring liquids, scooping ice cream, peeling veggies with a vegetable peeler, eating your creation with chopsticks (or any utensil), cracking eggs, mashing fruit or potatoes, stirring, cutting herbs or veggies with a scissors and various food decorating techniques.

Sensory Experiences-Taste is obviously engaged when eating something we have cooked, but what about the other senses? How many of us have memories tied to wonderful smells of foods lovingly prepared by a family member? Research shows that memory recall is connected to our sense of smell. So take the time to stop and smell fresh chopped herbs (do you include fresh over dried some of the time)? How about sniffing a pot of homemade soup or a crock-pot meal such as homemade cinnamon applesauce? Choosing foods rich in a variety of colors engages our sense of sight. Looking over produce for quality is another way we use sight. We engage our sense of touch by getting our hands in dough and a myriad of other ways mentioned above under fine motor skill development. Tapping on a melon and listening or hearing the sound of an egg crack or chopping of vegetables, all create wonderful memories. Some adults like to listen to music and drink wine while cooking together. A similar (non-alcoholic) ritual can be created with children.

Math and Science- the use of all types of measurement devices gives children the chance to practice the skill of measurement and builds a foundation for understanding concepts such as fractions. Chemistry concepts are also a part of cooking experience.

Social skills- preparing and eating foods together takes cooperation. Incorporating foods from the cultural heritage of the families in your program creates a concrete diversity experience. Spending time together, talking, laughing and enjoying good food and company are a part of most cultural family traditions (though becoming more rare in modern American culture).

Health, Safety & Nutrition-through cooking experiences we have a great opportunity to teach health issues such as the importance of washing hands, reading labels for nutrition facts, the importance of a balanced diet and the food groups. We also learn basic safety issues such as how to use tools, preventing burns from hot pans and the stove, and making sure food is not spoiled or contaminated.

Life Skills- those of us who cannot cook well as adults, have a great appreciation for a home-cooked meal. In a world where convenience foods and take-out dominate family tables, good cooking skills give us a resource to use that we can’t access if we don’t know how to cook. Cooking our own meals is usually healthier because we will typically consume less sodium, fat and processed foods and more fruit and vegetables than convenience or restaurant-prepared foods. With childhood obesity on the rise, learning portion control and healthy eating habits will help children maintain a healthy weight as adults.

Art Appreciation and Creativity-You probably never thought of your food as a work of art or maybe you have, but do you incorporate the appreciation of cooking as an art with children? Just as you can have a discussion on appreciating a fine painting or sculpture for the technique used, the beauty, the emotions invoked, etc, you can, likewise, have a similar discussion of the food you are creating or eating. What is the texture of a taco shell like compared to pita bread? Is a salad prettier with vegetables of the rainbow included or just a green salad? You can also create miniature works of art by decorating food with a variety of chopped ingredients or garnishes. There are many wonderful kid cookbooks and online resources that provide ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Literacy and Following Directions-The practice of reading recipes together and following the steps teach these basic concepts. Laminating recipes on cards makes it easier to remember to incorporate when cooking together without the worry of losing the page you were on or spilling food on your beloved cookbook.

Take it further-growing your own food or making connections to the community such as visiting local farmer’s market or farm can extend the learning on many levels.

Fun Recipes to Try: Check out these great websites to find kid-friendly recipes, articles, tips and more….

© Community Coordinated Child Care, Inc. (4-C)