Shared by Mrs. Sophie Andre, Lower Elementary Assistant and mom of Lynne, a new VdM Primary student:
The kitchen is probably one of the most enticing places in the house for a child who is discovering the world. Our anxiety and fear in letting children explore this place probably makes it even more mysterious and desirable. Think about it- all those curious, mysterious tools you can push, turn, twist, and cut paired with all those smells, all those sounds, all those colors. Where else can you explore and experience so many things at once?
I started to invite Lynne to help in the kitchen when she was 18 months old. She had naturally been working on pouring with sand and water, and I thought it would be an interesting experience to use those skills in a purposeful way in preparing food that you can really eat. She had a blast!
Lynne is now 2.5 years old, and we still cook together as an activity (not on a daily basis, mind you, but regularly). Cooking is a great way to connect with your child, to spend quality time together and to create memories that I am sure will last forever. It’s also an excellent way to improve your child’s fine motor skills, strength, eye/hand coordination, focus, precision and math skills as well as foster his/her imagination. Cooking opens the eyes with all those colors (the Japanese say that we eat with the eyes as much as with the mouth), your nose with all those smells, your touch with all those textures (soft, hard, cold, hot, powdery, slimy) and your mind to other cultures.
How to start?
First thing, prepare yourself. Yes, there is going to be mess, especially the first several times. Place your mind in a Zen mode and plan extra time for cleaning (especially if your child helps to clean). Inviting your child in the kitchen when you have to prepare dinner for 15 people might not be the best idea. Do not set your high expectations too high. Your child might not be in a good mood, or he/she might not be ready for some of the skills involved in the recipe. The goal is to create a pleasurable, rewarding experience.
Focus on a skill or on the entire recipe? Initially, you may want to isolate a skill (pouring, grating, cutting, mixing, cracking eggs) instead of going through an entire recipe. If you go the recipe route, select and dissect the recipe in several steps. Decide what you need to do and what your child can do (with or without your assistance). The point is quality time for everyone. What is your comfort zone? What are you willing to let your child do? What skills has your child already mastered and what challenging ones can you propose to him/her? Should you prepare some steps that involve specific skills in advance? All of this will depend of the age of your child, his/her familiarity with cooking, his/her interests, his/her skill set at the time. At first, Lynne was just pouring ingredients I prepared in little bowls, and little by little, we added new skills. Children are capable of so many things if we let them experience them at their own pace.
Prepare the environment. Very Montessori, but this is the key. If you have to stop to get a towel, a stool or other material, you might lose the interest of your young child. Get the bowls, the measuring cups, the spoons, a stool to reach the table or the sink- have everything you need at the ready!
Prepare the ingredients. Depending on the age of your child, you can do this together or do it by yourself before you invite your child in the kitchen. This step might be too long for your child to sit and watch quietly, and you might want to avoid conflict and prevent flour from being poured all over your kitchen. I usually prepare all ingredients in bowls or small pitchers. I place them around the mixing bowl in the order they need to be poured from left to right. I also prepare some steps in advance. For example, when we bake bread, I prepare leaven (or yeast) in advance, as Lynne is not yet able to wait between steps, and I would probably lose her interest.
Are you ready to cook with your little chef?
How about baking CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI BREAD?
In this summer season, this is a great way to use your zucchini and eat disguised veggies.
1 1/2 cups (360 ml/225 grams) shredded raw zucchini
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (45 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup oil
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a bowl whisk all dry ingredients. In another bowl whisk sugar, egg, vanilla, oil and zucchini. Combine the 2 bowls. Pour in a greased loaf pan and bake at 350° for about 25-30 minutes. Check from time to time to let the heart of the cake become creamy. Yummy!
Et Voilà! Bon appétit!