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