If you’re the parent of a school-age child, COVID-19 has thrust you into the world of homeschooling. And even if you appreciated your children’s teachers before, now you really understand how time-consuming, stressful, and exhausting it is to oversee a child’s education every day. Summer may look like a break, but with the prospect that programs, camps, and activities for kids are likely going to be cancelled or taken online, you may still be on the hook. And let’s not even talk about fall.
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It turns out, though, that your now-fired-up-practically-24-7 kitchen can be a great place to be teaching your kids, no matter what their ages. Whether it is cutting up apples for snack time as a tangible lesson in fractions, to baking a cake to talk about science and chemical reactions, to using recipe writing as a project in written communication, integrating food and cooking into homeschooling or activities with your kids can be a really wonderful way to teach your family and keep them fed! Here are some starter ideas for the elementary school-age child that are easy, helpful, and dare I say, even fun. And definitely delicious.
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Why elementary-age kids are perfect for kitchen and cooking projects
Younger elementary age kids may be the group who can benefit the most from this mingling of food and learning. They are old enough, by second grade, to be able to be taught basic knife skills and simple cooking techniques with supervision, so they can actively participate in cooking and prepping. They are still figuring out what really interests them, so it is a great time to expose them to all sorts of things, and cooking can become either a lifelong passion, or at least a set of basic skills they can rely on. They are old enough to have allowances and need to learn about budgeting and money management, and food shopping and costing is a wonderful intro to that.
Ideas for easy “lessons” that any parent can do
Science focus: If you have science lovers, try creating a sourdough starter or regrowing kitchen scraps like scallion ends, romaine lettuce bottoms, avocado pits, or celery bottoms as a science project. Make a dish like honeycomb candy to show instant chemical reactions. Maybe make some homemade ricotta cheese or butter.
Math focus: For your math lovers (or haters, if you are trying to inspire a conversion) think about weights and measures, which are so important to cooking. What is the difference in a volume measurement versus a weight measurement, or Imperial vs. Metric. Fractions. Have them double or triple a recipe if they need help with multiplication or halve one if they need some division work. Working out problems like “how would you figure out what half a raw egg would be?” for a recipe will challenge both math and critical thinking skills. Use online grocery shopping websites to help them look at food budgeting, including teaching them how to figure out the best value by finding price per ounce.
History focus: History-loving kids can research and make a recipe from the historical time period they are studying, or from a culture they are exploring. Talk about the Native American practice of planting corn, squash, and beans together, and then make a three sisters salad. Explore the Louisiana Purchase and make some red beans and rice. Read up on the Industrial Revolution and try doing some home canning or preserving to highlight why the invention of commercial canneries could completely change the food industry.
Reading focus: Literature might be the richest source of inspiration for cooking. Making food mentioned in the book they are reading will bring it to life, especially if the food is something they have never tasted before. Whether it is a crumpet or scone from Alice in Wonderland’s tea party, to Harriet the Spy’s famous tomato sandwich, to a Little House on the Prairie treat of maple candy, eating what the characters eat makes for some fun connections, and often even kids who might not love to read will read closely when tasked with making a list of all the food and dishes mentioned in the book, which can then be tapped for menu making.
And remember: This too shall pass. But meanwhile, your children may become better educated because of this practical, home-based learning!
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