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Children's literature is full of references to foods and to other ideas that can inspire "cooking" activties for preschool-age children. The skills developed through these activities include: pre-math; pre-reading; health, safety, and nutrition; following directions, cooperation, science and many more.
- Select a story to introduce the cooking activity.
- Read through the story to see what food references you can find. Sometimes this will be a word, such as "coconut" in "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom". Or maybe you could use a theme, such as the alphabet.
- Think of various recipes that include the food as an ingredient. In this example we can think of coconut pie, or fresh coconut chunks, or a fruit salad with coconut as an ingredient. If you choose to use the alphabet for recipe hunting, try alphabet soup or cookies cut out in alphabet shapes.
- Determine which recipes are appropriate and practical for making with a group of small children. Keep in mind the skills they already have, which skills are developing, and of course, safety issues, when deciding.
- You may want to prepare "recipe cards" large cards with pictures of each step you are completing in the recipe. The children can read and follow the recipe by "reading" the picture cards. (pre-literacy skills)
- Prepare the cooking activity in advance. Be sure you have all needed ingredients. Measure some ingredients in advance, and let the children help measure others. Have everything assembled in your cooking area before you begin the activity.
- Wash hands...everyone's! It's healthy, and it will teach healthy practices.
- Let children "chop", (using butter knives) peel, stir, pour, and knead. (Small motor skills)
- Do not let them handle sharp knives, hot ingredients, or get close to open flames. (safety)
- Talk about how to measure and why you are measuring. (pre-math)
- Ask open-ended questions of the children, such as what will happen when we put this in the oven? What do you think happened when...? (This encourages problem solving and critical thinking skills.)
- Be sure each child gets a chance to "help" in the activity. (cooperation and taking turns)
- If you have a large group of children, more than three or four, plan to do the activity more than once, dividing the children into groups. Alternatively, divide the food. Many children can each knead a bit of dough, cut and decorate a few cookies, or create their own miniature pizzas.
- Let the children help with the clean-up, too. This encourages independence and self-sufficiency.
- Even though pre-school children cannot yet tell time, setting a timer and asking them to watch the time with you, helps them to begin to develop a sense of time. (pre-math)
- Point out that you must complete the steps in a recipe in a certain order to get the desired end product. (sequencing, another pre-math skill)
- When the recipe is complete, enjoy the food with the children and congratulate them on their creation.
- You may want read the story again as the children enjoy the food they cooked.
- Cooking with children is also a wonderful way to get picky eaters to try new foods.
- Have fun. Learning works better when it is fun for all ages.
- A plastic tablecloth or other washable surface can help keep cleanup easy.
- Talk about where foods come from. Help children understand that foods do not originate on store shelves and in packages. Growing salad greens in containers or planting a small garden is a good way to illustrate this point. Field trips to farms and farmers markets are other ways to help children see that food comes from the earth not from a store. Remember children need "hands on", concrete learning activities. A "lecture" on food production will not achieve the effect of helping kids understand food production.
- Be aware of any food allergies the children may have and avoid recipes using those ingredients.
- Keep sharp and hot objects and utensils away from the children.
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