When kindergarteners help out in the kitchen, they're learning math, science, and reading. But they're also learning social skills, by working together to make the meal, sitting down together, and helping to clear their plates when they’re finished.
Former teacher Barbara Beery started hosting cooking classes with her business Batter Up Kids in Austin, TX in 1991. It’s the active, hands-on nature of cooking that makes it fun for her students, and there’s something for everyone at Batter Up. “Everything we teach has modifications [for different ages],” says Beery. In a lesson about chicken pot pie and snap green beans, teenagers might be rolling out pastry and baking the pie, while five-year-olds are cutting vegetables with safety knives and stirring flour and butter together.
Cooking with kindergarteners can be a daunting proposition—hot appliances, tons of directions to follow, and rewards that often aren’t immediate. But, the academic and social benefits of cooking outweigh the hassle. Every one of Beery’s classes incorporates math, reading, geography, history, and science. “It’s not just drilling through recipes,” she says, “it’s about bringing something of interest.”
Here are just a few of the key skills your kindergartener will take away from the kitchen long after dinner’s over:
Fine motor skills: Cooking tools from melon ballers to graters help kids strengthen their hand and fine motor muscles, as well as strengthen hand-eye coordination.
Scientific change: Water freezes and boils, jello hardens, nuts are ground to a fine powder, cakes go from batter to baked. Mixing ingredients and watching their creations change states teaches kids basic principles of science.
Academics: Your average recipe involves identifying common words (butter, milk, flour), tons of counting (one teaspoon, three tablespoons, stir twenty times), and math concepts (half and whole). Double or halve the recipe and you’re teaching addition and multiplication, or subtraction and division.
Food history: Use family recipes to talk about Grandma’s experience during World War II or research the history of the chocolate chip on the Internet before you whip up a batch of cookies.
Experimentation and creativity: Cooking allows kids to make decisions about their food, from adding an extra piece of licorice to the top of a cupcake to when to stop stirring the muffin batter. It’s all about experimenting—learning what works and what doesn’t—a skill that will carry over into other areas of their lives. Allow kids to combine flavors, add their own details to the recipe, and their creativity will blossom.
Chef-confidence: Working alongside adults, doing what adults do is a great confidence booster for kids. The messes and successes in the kitchen help kids develop positive self-esteem, the idea that they can try, fail, try again, and succeed.
Chef-unity: Cook food from around the world and you’re teaching kids about other countries, the people who live there, and that food is one thing we all share.
Break down gender barriers: When Beery started her cooking school the classes were filled with girls. Now, some classes are evenly split between girls and boys, and even boy-only classes fill up. Cooking is one way to encourage boys and girls to try new things and address gender bias head-on.
Organization: Cooking is organization in a nutshell, from making a shopping list to setting up spices in your cupboard to combining ingredients according to the recipe. Before you start cooking, organize your workspace, read the recipe, and come up with a plan for how to create your concoction. Along the way, you’re teaching your kids how to approach large and small projects.