Combining Homeschooling and Cooking: Creative Ways to Blend Everyday Life with Curriculum

Hands-On Learning

Real Dough Can Be Better Than Playdough

My son and daughter, helping me make tortillas for lunch.
My son and daughter, helping me make tortillas for lunch.
My son, six, preparing soup to go with our quesadillas. (We're using a wood-or-coal cookstove.)
My son, six, preparing soup to go with our quesadillas. (We're using a wood-or-coal cookstove.)

Kids in the Kitchen

Flour poofs from the batter bowl onto my husband's stack of construction bids, and my two-year-old daughter says, "Uh-oh! We wipe it up."

"Yes," I agree, and reach for the dishcloth.

Then we proceed with our mixing of pancakes, or brownies, or bread...whatever we are making as we go through this oft-repeated scene.

My just-six-year-old stands ready with the next ingredients. I grin at him, and ask how clean his hands are. He leaps away to wash them, giggling at the thought of sawdust or motor oil in the bread dough.

Fun Literary Feasts Meant for the Whole Family (We Use This Cookbook all the Time)

Get 'Em While They're Young

My children and I have fun cooking together. We have for quite some while. From the earliest times, before they could crawl, I would set them on my hip, and cook. They tasted spices and herbs, smelled extracts, touched and kneaded (and snitched) doughs, pounded steaks, prepared fresh vegetables and fruits, and learned why we use what we use.

This "method" seemed natural to me. Now, I don't have to get them involved. Getting them uninvolved once in a while is the trick.

Far From Home in the U.S.: Sri Lanka

Friendly elephant.
Friendly elephant.
So much water compared to the plains of Colorado!
So much water compared to the plains of Colorado!
Different religion, different diet.
Different religion, different diet.

The Benefits of Cooking Curiously

However, because I've usually encouraged their involvement (and taken it somewhat for granted), they know a lot. My son knows enough to prepare several simple meals practically by himself, with accurate measurements - on a wood cookstove. My daughter knows . . . not quite as much - but we'll see where she's at in four years. She does know enough to stir dry ingredients carefully (a challenge for her motor skills), roll a tiny tortilla with a miniature rolling pin, or a bread roll with her hands, pound meat with a meat hammer, and taste-test things. Plus, she eats practically anything we put on her plate, happily. So does my son.

In the process of learning how to be competent with their hands, the children have learned how to ask questions so as to be understood. They've learned to follow directions - mine, and the cookbook's. They've learned to wonder about things, and to recognize that the world is much larger than them, or their hometown.

They've learned that the world is a grand and a huge place, full of inventions, creative people, and differing mindsets. For instance, when we use cinnamon, that gives us an opportunity to discuss where the different kinds come from - that cinnamon grows in different parts of the world, and is indeed the bark of a tree. This can lead us into China (where eventually panda bears become the order of the day), or Indonesia, or perhaps marvelous Sri Lanka, or even Vietnam. When we make Moroccan Lamb Stew, the recipe serves as a springboard for a "trip" to Morocco, and for discussing the adventures of a man we know who has traveled there.

Viewed in this way, cooking becomes more than a way to fill our bellies or satisfy our palates. It becomes a deep well, fit to momentarily quench our thirst for knowledge and adventure. We discuss what other types of societies and cultures eat, while browsing a cookbook or reading a story, and we sometimes settle on recipes from these cultures that we would like to try. At these points, I get out my "wish" grocery list, and add any items we don't have on hand. We don't always get around to these strange foods right away, and we don't always like them, but that gives us an opportunity to go back and review what we learned (ugh, that word "learning" sounds so painful).

Similarly, we use foods as a place to start discussing our heritage. During holidays or special occasions, we try dishes popular with the Danish, or sometimes Germans or English. We find out something about what it's like to live in one of these countries, and explore their games, literature, or other facets of the culture(s).

Whole Foods Cooking

Herbs, Spices, Fruits for amazing flavors.
Herbs, Spices, Fruits for amazing flavors.
Pretty salads - get to know your greens.
Pretty salads - get to know your greens.
Growing your own food is important.
Growing your own food is important.
Gardeners learn fortitude and imagination, as we are always exercising our curiosity.
Gardeners learn fortitude and imagination, as we are always exercising our curiosity.

Putting on the Drama of Cooking, Yourself

The idea is never to let your brain stagnate, even if you are cooking macaroni and cheese for the third time this week. Spice things up a bit, if you can. Try a new herb in that mac'n'cheese, or make your own butter or cheese. You might grind your own grains, or try fermenting your own sauerkraut. If you don't grow a garden, plan one - with your children's input and help, of course. If you are working with older children, who have some co-ordination, reading skills, and initiative, but little experience, consider investing in a children's cookbook. A good one (my favorite as a child) is The Alpha Bakery Cookbook, from Betty Crocker.

This book gives ingredient amounts in both pictures and numbers, which will help children make the switchover from abstract to concrete math skills, and includes a good variety of real foods, made truly from scratch.

A key to achieving these benefits is to stay away from processed foods. They purposely contain addictive and denatured ingredients, which not only can damage the health of your family, but can make the main targets - your children - unwilling to try healthful or new foods. Therefore, think whole. Start with fresh veggies, and let your kids chop them. Give them small, sharp knives, which will allow them to do a good job without unduly stressing their hands. Begin with whole grains, bought directly from a reputable dealer or farmer, and then, when you grind them, you can be confident that what you're giving your family is healthful and helpful. Use the same principle for meats, and make sure your philosophy on antibiotics and steroids is comparable with that of the producer's. This may seem off topic, but a healthy, creative, joyful mindset is hard to maintain with highly processed foods.

Ahem . . . and the results of all this time and effort? Almost certainly your children will wind up knowing not only about cooking, but about geography, mathematics, and how things through the ages or decades have changed, both at home and around the world. They will have some understanding of where their food comes from, and they will have the regular satisfaction of knowing - they did it themselves! They provided something good!

They will be competent to cook with what they have, turning delicious meals out of almost anything.

Cinnamon from Sri Lanka - Watch How it is Grown and Processed

Lifetime of Baking and Cooking Help

Hey! How Do You Do Things?

Do you cook alongside your children?

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Comments 13 comments

Christa Dovel profile image

Christa Dovel 7 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

Boys? Cooking? Sawdust?

Yep, they all go together at my house! And they are not joking when they ask "What kind of oil?" Of course, the older ones would rather grease zerks than pans...


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

I LOVE THIS HUB! I am a fellow homeschool mom and we do this too. It's a fabulous thing and they learn so much, not only how to cook, but how to make mistakes and create new things, how to discern flavors, history of foods and recipes, math, languages... the list goes on and on. When they get older, I turn them loose in the kitchen, and we often incorporate a special meal that they create based on the subject matter of their reports (book report, geography report, etc.) It gets really exciting and boosts their self esteem. My older ones made the decision to go to school outside the home (for social reasons) but I continue the learning with my youngest, and of course school doesn't stop in the summer for us. It keeps them occupied and up to speed.

Thanks for the great blog on this important subject.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 7 years ago from United States Author

Frieda, congratulations on having so much fun with your kids! Even before I had kids, I knew I wanted to school them this way, and, while not everything has gone as planned in every area (sometimes I'm left saying, "What plans?"), we all continue to learn and to improve ourselves through living deliberately.

If you haven't already, maybe you should do a hub on your own experience with combining school and cooking. Feel free to leave a link here, as I'd love to see it, and I'll bet, so would others!


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 7 years ago from United States Author

Christa, aren't you glad that a little sawdust (from non-treated lumber) never hurt anybody? Mmm...extra fiber. ;-)

Just be sure your boys don't get mixed up and use combine oil, instead of combining the oil (tee hee).


Christa Dovel profile image

Christa Dovel 7 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

Tee Hee, Ha ha, Ho ho... glad we don't have combine oil!


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

ME TOO!!! And I have to say home schooling is the greatest experience ever. (Not for everyone though.) I actually have some great ideas about some hubs I could write about home schooling, so you should be seeing those at some point here. Thanks so much for letting me leave a link here when I do. I will remember to.

Enjoy your weekend!


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Frieda! Looking forward to those hubs!


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 7 years ago from Oregon

My little sis and I LOVED the Alpha Bakery cookbook while we were being homeschooled. We also prepared foods from different cultures and time periods, as you suggest, and even put on a medieval feast with our friends once! (Of course that included having a food-tester taste the king's food and fall flat on his face from the poison- but we ate the food anyway!).

THese are wonderful ideas, and I'm trilled to see your godly and creative example pave the way for many other mothers who are beginning to see the value in educating their own children. Thank you for an excellent article!


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 7 years ago from United States Author

Jane, that sounds so cool, about the medieval feast! That is something I always wanted to do, but never quite did. Maybe I'll live that dream with my children. Let's see, my daughter can be a princess, my son can be the court jester... Or perhaps we'll just be medieval peasants, and I'll serve porridge. That sounds simpler.

Or not. They won't find that much out of the ordinary, I'm afraid. Well, we'll get the menu figured out when they're a bit older, and able to appreciate such a thing.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 6 years ago from Northern California

I'm glad that my mom taught me to cook and eat at home... I'm saving a lot of money now and having a lot of fun while doing it! Great page. It's a great way to learn and be creative with your kids :)


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Glassvisage,

I'm so happy you've stopped by! Like you, I have a lot of fun cooking, and hardly a day goes by that my kids and I don't dig in and cook or bake something together.


Specialk3749 profile image

Specialk3749 6 years ago from Michigan

I have always cooked with a little one on my hip and a toddler on a stool! They love being involved! My 20 year old has such good memories that she wants to study culinary arts. You never know what may come out of having them in the kitchen at such a young age.

Now that I have 7 children, it really helps me out that my kids know how to prepare meals. Even my 2 and 4 year old can make a sandwhich, or get their cereal for the morning while mommy is nursing the baby.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States Author

Specialk3749,

Your kind of lifestyle was exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this hub. You are right - you never know what wonderful things may come out of some commonplace, but pleasant, activity.

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