Tips for Blending Cooking With Curriculum in Your Homeschool
Real Dough Can Be Better Than Playdough
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 say, 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 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.
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.
Cinnamon from Sri Lanka--How it is Grown and Processed
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 burning 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 they, 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.
Getting a Taste of Other Cultures
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).
Opportunities to Explore Family Heritage
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).
Enjoying Whole FoodsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ways to Branch Out
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. Try a new herb in that mac'n'cheese.
Process Your Own Ingredients
If you are very ambitious, you can churn your own butter, or make your own cheese. You can mix homemade pasta dough, and cut rustic-style noodles.
You might grind your own grains, or try fermenting your own sauerkraut or kombucha.
Grow Herbs, Vegetables, and Fruits
If you don't already grow a garden, plant one--with your children's input and help, of course.
A first-rate container garden can be fun, even if you don't have much space or time. (And you get to teach more science!)
Use Different Cooking Methods
Try cooking in a Dutch oven over an open fire, or bake bread (or pizza!) in your outdoor grill. Cook stew on a woodburning stove. Heat lunch in a homemade solar oven. Learn to use a new kind of pan or cooking method.
Provide Children With Their Own Cookbooks
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 Lifetime of Baking and Cooking Fun
Homemade Solar Oven, Repurposed Clay Pot
Whole Foods Are Helpful
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 certified organic 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 compatable 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.
Another Fabulous Cookbook--We Use This One All the Time!
Little House Memories
My siblings and I grew up reading the "Little House" books. I still love them, and have read them to my children. Laura Ingalls Wilder had a way with words--especially about food.
She makes my mouth water with her descriptions of holiday fare, and her husband's upstate New York farm table. She even made me anxious to try jack rabbit--which, it turns out, is nothing to brag about!
So when I discovered The Little House Cookbook as a child, I had to use it! I first made apple dumplings (pastries), such as Almanzo Wilder carried with him to school. As a gradeschooler, I had never made any kind of pastry or pie, and I remember being so anxious over the results. (They were fine.)
Later, I made beet pickles, such as Mother Wilder piled at the edges of the Sunday plates. I made chicken pie, and sausage balls.
I fished for trout, and fixed them like Pa and Ma Ingalls had done.
My own children and I ate lunches of corn dodgers with molasses--an idea straight out of Indian Territory.
And we feasted on jack rabbit with light biscuits. Or sourdough biscuits. Or rye'n'Injun bread.
When I am feeling nostalgic, I take my worn copy of this cookbook off my shelf, and leaf through the exerpts from the nine "Little House" books. The author was thoughtful enough to include a few paragraphs of text from whichever scene featured each recipe. They are all beloved.
Hey! How Do You Do Things?
Do you cook alongside your children?
© 2009 Joilene Rasmussen