Cooking with young children can seem so daunting. Everyone wants a turn to stir, pour, mix, and there is really no guarantee everyone will even get a turn to do it all. But even though cooking with a group of young children isn’t always a smooth or perfect process, it is an excellent way to build all kinds of important skills…
I was recently reading through some of my old college educational journals and the words of Maria Montessori stood out to me when she said something along these lines: when young children were offered real life materials or toys to play with, they always chose real life.
Maria Montessori understood that not only are young children attracted to real life materials and experiences, they are also building important life-long skills in the process. Some of those skills may seem obvious while others might not be. I would like to share with you some of the skills I have observed my students building in the process of cooking up these very simple pumpkin spice muffins…
Our Five Senses
Each of my students were given their own bowl and spoon to mix up some pumpkin spice cake mix with some pumpkin pie filling. This was only a two ingredient recipe and yet the smell of spices filled the air which naturally led us to talk about our sense of smell. This leads me to our first skill that is always promoted through cooking – using all of our five senses to explore and learn about new things. I am reminded how Maria Montessori encouraged practitioners to involve all the senses in the child’s learning experience.
Although we didn’t use a measuring cup or spoon for this process, we did talk about measurements in terms of filling their bowls with scoops of spice cake and pumpkin filling. The children counted out the numbers of scoops they were to use of each ingredient. Mathematical thinking such as measuring, counting, estimating are all a part of the cooking process and all are skills that were naturally being promoted as the children worked on mixing up their muffin mix.
Fine Motor Skills
Cooking always promotes the use of eye-hand coordination and fine motor control. As the children stirred together their two ingredients, they not only had to use their hand and wrist muscles to mix the ingredients together but they also had to be mindful of keeping the ingredients inside the bowl by stirring firmly yet carefully.
Observation and Decision-Making
In the process of mixing up their two ingredients, the children had to observe their mixture then decide, “Is the mixture too dry? Too moist? Do I need to add more cake mix or more pumpkin mix? Have I mixed everything up thoroughly?” Cooking is a continuing process of making decisions so that the ingredients will be prepared correctly and the children are building their skills of observing and decision-making in the process.
Language and Literacy
Cooking is a wonderful way to promote language skills such as building new vocabulary, “You need to mix until your ingredients are smooth.” And it gives us the chance to explore the value of literacy as we refer to the outside of the box or the can to see what might be inside of the box or what the directions are for making our muffins. The skills of language and literacy are reinforced as the children talk to one another during the cooking process as well, “This smells so good.” “I think I need more pumpkin in mine.”
Cooperation and Collaboration
As the children filled the muffin tins with their ingredients, they had to work together to pass out muffin holders and to decide which cups needed more ingredients and which ones already had enough.
As one child used up all of his or her ingredients, then another child would step in to add some more until all the muffin cups were filled.
Cooking is all about staying organized in order to complete the process. As young children walk through the process from beginning to end, they are also building their ability to stay organized in the process and see the process through to completion.
Together the children worked to achieve the goal of filling the muffin cups. Together the children talked about what still needs done or who should do what. Together the children stood side by side accomplishing a goal. Every child had something to contribute. Every child played an important role in the process of getting all the muffins ready for the oven.
Whenever I write about cooking with kids, I almost always get lots of folks giving me lots of reasons why cooking just can’t be done in their classroom. Too many germs, the children might eat some of it, too many problems with allergies, too messy, too many kids, and the list goes on. These reasons can certainly make a teacher want to avoid cooking with kids but let me just encourage you to look for solutions, try new recipes, experiment with different cooking tools and approaches, and get informed as to what you can do.
Be diligent and you will find a way for your students to enjoy the full sensory experience and reap the benefits of all the skills that come along with cooking together. It is so worthwhile.