Using cooking and baking as a fun natural learning activity
Cooking and baking with children is a good activity for learning naturally, as it covers a whole variety of educational areas without the children realising. It’s also great fun and ideal for spending some time together.
Dependent on the recipe, and the age and aptitude of your child, will depend on what cooking processes the child can join in with, or does. Younger children might like something they can just construct, or a recipe that's simpler to make if they want to do more, or you can share the processes so they do the mixing and licking the spoon after !! Baking and cooking are fantastic activities for using and developing a whole variety of skills, whilst having a lot of fun, so encourage your child to try whatever they want to have a go at, whatever their age. For example some younger children love having a go at cracking eggs for recipes, whenever you can, let them. We all learn in various ways, including by making mistakes, watching others, and having a go ourselves. Let them crack them into a separate bowl and then tip them into the recipe, that way you can get any shell out first!!
If you have a slightly older child, you can take the recipe from the start and cover lots of cross curricular subjects, including literacy, maths, science and geography. The child could decide want they want to make, including looking through and reading recipes, and then writing a shopping list for the ingredients. Then you could go shopping for ingredients, which can include reading labels, looking at where the food is from, paying with money. Then you come to the making, so weighing out ingredients, using cooking techniques to bring the recipe together. Also the eating of what you have made, especially if it’s something new, as it is experiencing new flavours and textures. Obviously they don’t have to do all these things every time, I’ve just broken down some of the learning experiences that are covered under cooking and baking so you can see it’s a fantastic activity to do with your child, particularly if it interests them.
If you have a reluctant reader or writer, who loves cooking, this is a way you can encourage more reading and writing naturally, it has a purpose, it’s for a reason and it’s something the child is interested in. You could go even further where the child prepares a menu etc as well. The same with maths, its a useful way of using numbers; weighing and measuring ingredients, even young children can start to look at and recognise numbers on a digital scale, paying for ingredients with money. Also dividing a cake or a pizza up is a good practical, hands on way of starting fractions. Children learn best and absorb the information when they are interested, so if they like cooking and baking there are so many different opportunities you can use to help them.
You can also follow themes to what you make, if the child is interested in a certain part of the world, why not try making traditional food from that area, or include cooking as part of a particular topic such as Chinese New Year. If you are covering a certain time period of history you could look at and try some of the food available during that time, such as WW2 or Tudors etc. You could also be seasonal and cook food for that particular time of year, so if you have been blackberry picking in the autumn, put them to use in a recipe. Also it’s a great way of discussing where food comes from, we take things for granted as we are so used to them, but to children it can make them question how we get flour, eggs, fruit, veg, meat etc. So much can be learnt from discussions, and answering children's questions.
There are also so many fantastic cookery skills to help your child develop, and it will help them be independent as they get older and into adult life, especially if they can make a simple meal for themselves. Sieving, grating, cracking eggs, buttering, cutting, rolling, crushing, greasing cake tins, rubbing flour and butter together, whisking, peeling, mashing, decorating, tin opening, and lots more besides. Also these activities, can help develop fine motor control and hand strength, which can in turn help develop a child’s writing.
Lastly now you are fired up and ready to start cooking with your children there are several things it can be useful to realise and remember; it will take longer than just cooking on your own so allow more time, when you won’t feel rushed and can enjoy the activity together. Plus be prepared for mess, it will be more messy, guaranteed! Also you have to expect that food may not be as ‘perfect’ as normal, for example biscuit dough may end up a bit tougher than normal through being over worked by an enthusiastic child.
All ready? Head off and enjoy some quality time with your children cooking and baking, and be reassured that while you are having fun and making lovely things to eat, they are learning along the way too. What a good excuse to make and eat cake !!