As a teacher of three and four year olds, cooking is a weekly practice in my classroom. While we all love to enjoy the final product of a treat produced, the process of baking is what really is educationally beneficial to children. While baking with children, they can learn a multitude of educational concepts including many math, science, social and language concepts, which are essential to early childhood development.
Children can learn turn taking, whether you are cooking with a group of children or just one-on-one. In my classroom, we cook with four children at a time. I often hear, “when will it be my turn (to put in an ingredient in)” or “can I put that in!” I always assure them that everyone will have a turn to put an ingredient in and that we will go around the table taking turns. The children learn to anticipate when their turn will come by determining who is next around the table to measure an ingredient.
There are a number of mathematical concepts that can be learned through baking. The children not only learn how to measure various ingredients, but also begin to understand fractions. By looking at various measuring cups and determining which is bigger or smaller, the children start to develop their understanding of the differences between a ½ cup, ¼ cup, and 1 whole cup. In my classroom we have a large recipe that includes photographs of the ingredients, visuals of a ½, whole, and ¼ cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons. Having a large visual for the children help them to take part in following the recipe and recognizing different measurements on it.
As the children look at the recipe and begin to recognize different aspects of it, they are strengthening their pre-reading and language skills. While following the recipe, they are recognizing words, symbols, and noticing how it is read from left to right, which are all vital to learning to read. Sound-symbol correspondence is being reinforced as well. The children learn that a recipe follows an order, that it follows a sequence and begin to familiarize themselves with the language: first, second, and third. They are exposed to new vocabulary such as leveling, consistency, and kneading.
While they learn the new vocabulary, they are experiencing it first-hand. They are measuring, pouring, feeling the textures of ingredients, watching batter change consistency and predicting what will happen when it goes into the oven. The children take turns helping others hold the bowl while mixing ingredients, which promotes social development as well. After completing the recipe and putting their creation in the oven, all that is left to do is enjoy the final product with the rest of the class. Even while eating the baked goods, the children involved in the cooking can discuss what happened during the process of cooking, what ingredients they recall putting in and share their experience with the rest of the class.
This all can be replicated at home too! Baking with children is not only fun in a classroom setting, but at home, children have the opportunity to be fully involved in the process. Together you and your child can decide what to bake by brainstorming ideas, going shopping together and cooking together. Even if you are baking with one child, you can facilitate turn-taking by you being involved as well. If you are worried about it becoming messy, throw a disposable plastic tablecloth on your work space and aprons on you and your child. Have fun and share the final product with family and friends!
By Simone Zwany, Early Childhood Teacher