Erin Stewart has been working with children and in the educational system for nearly 12 years. She specializes in home economics and art.
Why Should Children Learn How to Cook?
Whether you are a teacher, parent, babysitter, or all of the above, there is something very rewarding in teaching someone a new skill—especially children who can benefit from the lessons for the rest of their lives and grow up to not only harness that skill but improve on it.
Not only have I been cooking since I was a child, but I have also been working with children for nearly half of my lifetime, and one of the greatest pleasures I have had was teaching children how to work in the kitchen.
In this article, I will be explaining certain techniques that I have used which I have found very successful and which I hope you, dear reader, will also find very useful.
Teaching Them About the Kitchen
Before my kids and I start cooking, we often spend a week of getting to know the kitchen first.
To do this successfully, I have found that using images and examples is the best method of holding on to children's attention and letting the information sink in. Even for the smallest lessons, I create PowerPoint presentations full of images and even add a little bit of music in the background to keep them from dozing away. This method is best when you have more than 5 kids to teach but can be just as effective with one or two children.
When teaching them about the kitchen, you're not only showing them what certain tools are or how to use them, you're also giving them lessons on how to handle certain tools with caution and practicing kitchen safety. I always make sure to let my children know that a lot of accidents can happen in the kitchen and that they need to be aware of them in order to avoid them as best as possible. A few examples of lessons you can teach children about kitchen safety are:
- Cuts and burns
- Handling a knife correctly
- Foodborne illnesses
- Adequately keeping your cooking station clean and sanitary
- Spills and why you should clean them up right away
- What to do in case of a grease fire
- How to use an electric appliance correctly
These lessons are usually done in PowerPoint presentations with visual examples and even short videos that you can easily find on Youtube.
Another lesson I love to teach children is measurement conversion. This helps to build their math skills, especially fractions, and also teaches them how to be a confident cook.
Again, visualizations and examples are key to this lesson and you can even do a practice run for measuring by implementing another activity into your lesson such as making homemade slime.
For example, while teaching my kids how to add a tablespoon of something but I only have the use of a teaspoon I would have them write down how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, and then we would continue with this conversion by making something with it.
Homemade slime can't miss. Kids of all ages love it and it's very easy and inexpensive to make. For the recipe scroll down.
Kitchen Safety Worksheet
How to Make Borax-Based Slime
What you'll need:
- white glue
- two 5-ounce paper cups
- food coloring (optional)
- Borax powder
- popsicle stick
- measuring spoons
How to make:
- Fill 1 paper cup with water and add one tablespoon of Borax powder and mix well. Set aside.
- Take the other paper cup and add glue until the cup is filled about an inch high.
- Add 3 tablespoons of water to the glue and stir.
- Add food coloring to the glue concoction in the hue of your choice and mix.
- Take your Borax solution and add 1 tablespoon of the liquid to your glue mixture and combine well.
Tip: You can also add other things into the mix such as glitter or glow-in-the-dark paint.
Taking notes isn't a lot of fun for most kids, although I find it somewhat detrimental for comprehension. You can try avoiding all of the griping by creating an attractive recipe book for the kids so they can take notes in it. For the younger kids, I will even give them a paper chef hat to wear as long as they are in the kitchen, to help them stay engaged with our project.
All you will need for this is a blank journal for the children to decorate and write in so that not only are they learning, they are also feeling engaged. This is also a moment in the lessons where I find PowerPoint to be a bit of a crucial element so that the children can look at what is written down and write it out themselves correctly in their books to look back on. This way, the kids can write down the kitchen safety rules, measurement conversions, and even the recipes they are going to be using.
You can use any journal of your choice. I have used composition books and allowed them to put stickers and collages on them. I have also used folded-up printer paper and stapled them into books so they can go crazy with the decorating. It all depends on how you would like the children to personalize it.
Starting Off Simple
Now that you've gone over kitchen safety and how to use equipment, you want to decide on what you and your children want to make. You may want to take into consideration the age of the children, their level of comprehension as well as the number of children you will be working with. For example, I had a class of 32 fourth-graders, and only 2 of them had ever cooked on a semi-regular basis. I had to start with something a little simple which didn't require a lot of steps, tools, or ingredients. I will use this class as my example since there was quite a bit of trial and error.
With my 32 fourth-graders, I decided to start them off with a simple instant pudding mix and gave them each 2 Oreo cookies. Their first task was to go over the recipe they had written down in their journals the day before and figure out what ingredients they needed and what tools they needed and bring them back to their cooking stations for mise en place. At this point, I gave them very little guidance since I wanted them to follow the recipe they had written down and see if it worked.
Once all of my students had gathered what they needed and brought it back to their stations, I gave them the ok to start creating their dessert as I showed them on the PowerPoint presentation. I also put up a picture of the finished dish for all of the children to see so that they could get an idea of what it should look like. As the children were all figuring out what needed to go where, I noticed two common mistakes made by nearly every one of them.
- The first mistake was the measuring. I had gone over the conversions of the measuring cups and spoons, but I mistakenly forgot to mention that when using the measuring cups and spoons, they needed to fill up the entire cup or spoon. This led to a lot of the children's measurements to be quite off and either ending up with chunky pudding or runny pudding.
- The second mistake was how to read the recipe in order. About half of that class was creating the dish by reading the ingredients in order instead of reading the recipe's directions in order. This wasn't too big of a deal since we were only making instant pudding with Oreo cookies, but if not corrected, could lead to some pretty nasty kitchen mishaps in the future.
Once I saw that every one of the children were finished we went over the experience, what they had the most trouble with, and how we can correct it in the future. Soon after that, I told them to dig in.
Simple Oreo Pudding Treat
Simple Oreo Pudding Instructions
- All you will need for this is a package of instant pudding of your choice, two Oreos per child, milk, 2 plastic cups, 2 plastic spoons, and a Ziploc bag.
- Prepare half of the pudding as it states on the pudding box with the pudding mix and the milk. Mix them together in one of the plastic cups with one of your plastic spoons.
- Next, you will take the two Oreo cookies, place them in the Ziploc bag, seal it and begin to crush them into crumbles.
- You will then place half of the crumbles into the bottom of your unused plastic cup and then place your prepared pudding on top of the bottom layer of crumbles and use the remaining half of Oreo crumbles and pour it on top of your pudding.
- Note: You may also incorporate sprinkles or cherries if you prefer.
Don't Underestimate the Power of Informative Videos
Children's attention spans can be rather short, especially if they're not interested in something. Thanks to the internet and Youtube there is a smorgasbord of instructional videos uploaded from people all over the world to help you out.
Something I have noticed a lot with kids is that they love watching other kids doing something that they are trying to learn. Children tend to have this misconception in their minds that when they get older they will automatically start to be adequate at certain things rather than understanding the age-old rule of "practice makes perfect." Showing them adults teaching them how to do something sometimes doesn't do this trick and, quite frankly, bores them. Luckily there are a ton of videos out there, especially videos of children cooking that may pique their interest, such as the one featured below.
Easy Homemade Ice Cream | Full-Time Kid | PBS Parents
Cooking is Fun and a Great Skill to Learn
As I get older I start to notice that certain things that were common for children to learn when I was young aren't so common anymore and this is why I took such an interest in teaching children home economics.
Over the years many things have changed, such as school budgets and academic focus, and even children's lives at home are much different than when I was a child.
For me, learning to cook is as important as learning what to do in an emergency situation. Being able to cook for yourself and others is a very important skill that seems to be fading as the convenience of fast food and boxed meals grow. One thing to remember is that a great thing about teaching someone something new is that you might also learn something new for yourself.
I hope this article was informative, and happy cooking!
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