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Kiddos in the Kitchen

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Kitchen-related activities prepare children for mathematical concepts like measurement and fractions, and help with pre-reading skills through enrichment of vocabulary, says Anjali Kalani

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve baking and cooking with my grandmother. I vividly remember splashing red food coloring into cake batter until it turned just the desired shade of pink. I also remember stirring cornstarch and milk under my grandmother’s watchful eye to create a silky-smooth chocolate sauce that was devoured almost instantly. Ultimately, the time my grandmother invested in me fostered a love for creating meals for my family. But nostalgia aside, it was only when I became a Montessori teacher that I realised the tremendous benefits of involving children three and up in the kitchen. Kitchen-related activities prepare children for mathematical concepts like measurement and fractions, and help with pre-reading skills through enrichment of vocabulary, among a host of other benefits.

Both my children made their foray into the kitchen with me at two-and-a half. Now, my ten-year-old son Siddhant no longer needs me to help him while he expertly kneads flaky, buttery pie dough or makes wholesome dal and rice to sustain us on days when I bring work home. And getting dinner on the table on busy evenings is so much faster with my seven-year-old daughter tossing a salad, whisking raita or rolling out rotis and parathas.

If that didn’t convince you to get your children into the kitchen at a young age, here are more reasons:

  • It channels their energy productively versus spending time on the iPad or television.
  • Prepares them for adulthood so they aren’t clueless when they need to fend for themselves.
  • Builds self-confidence and generates feelings of good self-esteem because children feel accomplished working on grown-up tasks.
  • Picky eaters are more likely to try foods they help prepare.
  • Teaches cooperation, patience and team building skills by working together as a family.
  • Helps improve small muscle coordination by mixing and pouring ingredients.
  • It lends itself to vocabulary enrichment through conversations.
  • Reading a simplified recipe provides reading practice in an interesting manner to a reluctant reader.
  • Abstract concepts like measurement and fractions are explored concretely, especially through baking.

There are two approaches to cooking with children:

  • A systematic approach, which I use in my class, involves the gradual building up of skills. Children as young as three can scrub vegetables and use a butter knife to cut soft foods like bananas. Gradually work your way up to harder fruits and vegetables. I recommend a wavy knife blade because it isn’t as sharp as a serrated knife and is perfect for little hands. Continue to increase levels of difficulty until children can follow a simple recipe on their own with minimal intervention. This usually happens around age six.
     
  • In contrast, the more laissez-faire approach involves diving right in without any skill-building. Children as young as two-and-a half can mix and pour ingredients. Older children, too, can jump right in and learn to cut and peel as and when the recipe requires it.

A word of caution: Anything heat-related like the oven and the stove must be handled by the parent until the child is older and has garnered considerable experience.

I have successfully used both approaches to cooking with children at home and in my classroom. Decide which approach to use by keeping in mind your personality and the personality of your child to figure out what works best for your family,

Finally, remember that there is no right or wrong way. If the idea of children wielding knives in the kitchen doesn’t appeal to you, skip the step and bake with them. Follow your instincts and have fun building memories, knowing your children have much to gain from the experience.

Anjali Kalani is mother of two independent, precocious children and an AMS and AMI certified Montessori guide who teaches children ages three to six in Houston, Texas.  

Fact File
1. Children as young as three can scrub vegetables and use a butter knife to cut soft foods like bananas.

2. Anything heat-related like the oven and the stove must be handled by the parent until the child is older.

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