Life Skills Series: Learning Through Food
Life skills series
Early years cookery – learning through food
As a home-schooler, you are in a position to extend the types of education your children receive beyond that found in traditional schools. In many cases, mainstream schools miss the opportunity to teach kids some of the life lessons that will serve them day-to-day – in the world beyond the classroom. Learning at home has many benefits, not least of which is the extra time your kids have in the day, so why not make the most of that extra time to add a practical element to your schedule – in this instance cooking!
Why is it important?
Studies are showing that children need to be exposed to healthy food at an early age. Learning to identify and cook with healthy ingredients, even at the primary school level, encourages the development of healthy eating habits that will stand them in excellent stead for their whole lives, as well as reducing their chances of developing unhealthy eating habits.
But beyond the health benefits, cooking can be a fantastic way to develop practical skills in children of all ages. It can help hone basic maths skills, teach them how to read and follow precise instructions, help them expand their vocabulary, develop listening skills and promote literacy, help develop their sensory perception, and boost confidence – all while being creative and a little bit messy!
How to get your youngsters engaged in the kitchen
In the kitchen, you can start early, and start small. But even the smallest task can develop a child’s sense of self-confidence and begin to nurture a positive relationship with the kitchen.
- Preparing a salad
Show them how easily they can make a delicious salad. Their pride in helping you will encourage them to try – and to appreciate healthy food. If the children are young, encourage them to identify and describe the vegetables.
- Stirring pancake batter
Help your children observe what happens when a liquid is added to the pancake mix. Help them express and describe what is happening. It is a chance to help kids articulate their sensory experience and to get them directly involved in making food.
- Assembling a pizza
Teaching children through pizza may seem counterintuitive, especially given that pizza is often associated with poor and unhealthy eating habits, but pizza is a wonderful way to introduce new ingredients that otherwise may intimidate children. Artichokes, olives, rocket, butternut squash – all can be put on pizza dough and enjoyed.
Getting them involved in the assembly process is also a great way to de-mystify food and develop their palates.
- Helping you read a cookbook
Cookbooks use a different style of vocabulary and have a nice blend of words and numbers for young readers to work with. Encourage them to try and pronounce the ingredients and point them out. This will help build relationships between words and objects.
- Measuring ingredients
Maths is as vital to cookery as to science. By halving or doubling recipes, weighing dry goods on the scales, or pouring and measuring precise amounts of liquid, you can develop practical applications for mathematics and help children process information, develop fine motor skills, and in the process give them a real sense of accomplishment.
This is a really important part of the procedure – particularly for younger kids. It is a great teaching opportunity where children can learn about hygiene, cleanliness, and diligence in the kitchen. Making your children responsible for the aftermath of cooking – which we all know can be the most challenging part of preparing food – will teach them about responsibility.
Kitchen safety rules
- Orient children with the layout of the kitchen before you start. Show them what is and isn’t expected; delegate safe and unsafe areas.
- Be clean! Give everyone’s hands a scrub with warm soapy water before you start preparing food.
- Wipe your counter tops to keep your food nice and clean.
- If you are cooking on the stove, make sure to turn pot handles into the middle so there are no accidents with hot pans.
- Turn off stove burners when not in use.
- Use safe techniques when using a knife such as cutting away from you and using a cutting board.
- Keep sharps out of reach of the youngest kids, but if they are old enough to work with knives, be sure to teach them to pick up knives by the handle and not the blade.
- No licking! Make sure the kids don’t lick fingers, bowls, or spoons until the cooking process is over (and only if they haven’t been handling raw meat or eggs).
But as with all things in the kitchen, safety is an absolute priority. Don’t forget to teach the basics of kitchen safety to make sure that your cooking time goes off without a hitch.
Middle and high school students
As kids’ progress from early years to middle and high school, the style of teaching in the kitchen can change too. With some clever planning, you can turn your kitchen into a science lab – and one that can be used every day. One of the biggest concerns for parents of home-schoolers taking up an online curriculum is the lack of practical experience – cooking can change all that at a stroke. Why does yeast make bread rise? What causes the fizzling when baking soda and vinegar are mixed? Integrating on-curriculum subjects with cooking will inspire your students to want to learn more. It is also an opportunity to teach specific lessons on nutrition – about how carbohydrates and proteins work in the body, how there are good and bad fats and how they can impact healthy living. Essentially, learning about human biology through food!
Moreover, the more confident they get in the kitchen, the more comfortable you will be that they are beginning to learn and contribute to their own lives. The independence they are learning in safely preparing meals means that as they get older, they can take on additional responsibilities – prepare their own lunches – plan and create a family meal. These are life lessons not often taught to children at school, and yet something that is vital to their personal development.
To help you plan home-school cooking classes, there are a number of good kitchen chemistry books out there, specifically targeting students of different ages.