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But cooking actually offers a great way to teach your kids all manner of skills, including math, science, organization, and time-management, not to mention good ole’ learning from mistakes. It’s also a powerful way of connecting with your kids and passing on cultural and family traditions.
“Cooking and eating are among the most basic human activities,” says Laura Schein, a Ryerson University instructor who has taught courses in early primary programming and cognitive development. It’s no wonder then that cooking supports many different kinds of learning, something Schein has witnessed firsthand throughout her 40 years of teaching. She regularly incorporated cooking into her students’ learning by having them make their daily snacks.
First, Schein points out how students learn to focus on numbers and measurement. But they also learn to use their instincts. “When you cook, you develop an intuitive sense of quantities, even when following a recipe,” she says. For example, if the kids want to make lots of cookies, they need to figure out whether they need to double a recipe and if so, how. Plus, they need to decide how big to make each cookie. Such processes require thinking about quantities not only through measuring and math, but also with common sense.
Trial-and-error and elements of the scientific process also come into play. “You try, predict, notice the results, make connections with what you did, and bring these experiences to your next cooking experience, either trying to replicate what you did because it worked or trying something different because it didn't,” explains Schein. “For this learning to take place, children need regular cooking experiences—and also the opportunity to take risks and make mistakes.”
As a frequently communal affair, cooking teaches kids to share what they’re learned with one another as well as their parents. “Cooking, as a social activity, will lead to conversations among the cooks,” adds Schein. Discussions about ingredients and where they come from, taste preferences, nutrition, previous cooking experiences and more can all arise during meal prep. Cooking presents many teachable moments, but also offers opportunities for parents to just spend time doing something collaborative with their kids.
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And of course, no cooking experience would be complete without making at least a bit of a mess. But even mess-making lends itself to helping develop fine motor skills. “The realities of cooking lead to practice in mixing without spilling, gaining control in efforts to measure carefully, and working on the physical skills of using tools for cutting and chopping,” Schein says.
Last but definitely not least, cooking helps kids to understand and apply life skills beyond simply creating something to eat. “Cooking involves planning—shopping, time and space to work, thinking about the order of the jobs. Experience in planning and time management has wide application to school and life,” affirms Schein. Cooking also requires clean-up and sharing the work that needs doing. “It is good for children to be involved in real tasks where they understand the rationale for work and can see the outcomes.”
So the next time you’re in the kitchen, invite your kids to participate. There’s no telling what you’ll both learn.
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