Cooking to Learn while Learning to Cook

by Louise Frazer

Recently we discussed the educational value of ordinary tasks. Something everyone is doing more of in these days of quarantine and confinement is cooking, an activity the whole family can enjoy. The possibilities are limitless, from complex four-course meals to simple snacks, traditional fare to experimental discoveries. Whatever cooking project you embark on, it can also help teach a variety of subjects, such as:

•  Math;
•  Geography;
•  History;  
•  Language Arts;   
•  Nutrition;
•  Science            
•  Art;  

The sky is the limit for learning opportunities, but not everything has to be accomplished in every cooking session. Choose just one or two subjects to work on during each recipe. For math, counting, sequencing, comparing, measuring, multiplying, and dividing are all required skills when cooking and the level of complexity can be assigned according to your child’s ability.

History and geography leap off the page if you choose a country every week and explore its cuisine, or perhaps a time period and prepare foods that would have been eaten back then. Another approach could be to dive in depth into a particular food’s history, such as potatoes or corn.

Language Arts is another subject that can use your culinary exploits as a springboard for learning.  Your child could write a menu or copy a recipe for handwriting practice and then send it to Grandma in a card. You could even create a “family favourites” recipe book and collect recipes from aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins, even if they are far away.  Reading is a competence usually required for cooking, however if this is not a skill you want to emphasize for a given recipe, consider a cooking video instead. If your child is proficient enough in a second language, any of these activities could be replicated.

As for nutrition and science, these hold many fascinating possibilities and are easily adjusted to your child’s interest and level. It’s a golden opportunity to teach them about food groups, vitamins, and eating a balanced diet. For science, there are many lessons to be explored such as what makes bread rise, or why food smells good as it cooks.

Interestingly, eating is the only activity that involves all five senses. With that in mind, remember that cooking is also an art form. Become gingerbread architects, or make pancake shapes.  All great chefs make food not only delicious, but visually appealing.

As with any art form, it can get messy and occasionally expected outcomes can veer off course unexpectedly. Try to think of these events as learning opportunities, not disasters.  Turn the “flops” into learning nuggets. If someone forgets to put the sugar in the cake, they will discover that sugar is more than just a sweetener. If a bottle of oil spills on the floor, they will learn first-hand the challenges of oil-spills. Cooperation, teamwork, and a sense of humor are essential and will add just the right amount of “spice” to your recipes.

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