The trend at the moment for children to learn to cook when young, set alight by the Australian television series ‘Junior Masterchef’, is such a blessing to those who want their children to have a cool reason to explore and experiment with science. In fact, cooking with your children can encourage scientific thinking.
The whole process of cooking, from ingredient selection, to cooking method, to the all-important taste-test is one huge scientific experiment. Looking at any Early Childhood curriculum from around the world, you will always find reference to sections such as: materials, changes in states, processes, forces and health and nutrition. Cooking covers all these, and it’s fun!
When children take part in cooking activities, they are really exploring how individual things combine together to make something new. The individual elements (ingredients), the kinds of processes you use to combine them (mixing, folding, beating etc.), and the type of process you use to change them (heat/freeze) are all basic elements that make great experiments. All of us can remember a time when a recipe didn’t turn out exactly how we imagined once we had tasted it. Too much salt? Oven not hot enough? Wrong kind of cheese? The important thing is to identify what went wrong that time and change it the next time – scientific thinking!
For young children, the entire world is amazing. It works around them – they understand it is there but not how it works, or how their interactions with it can change it. Cooking is a great way to engage children with natural, scientific processes. Trying different flavours of cupcakes, different ingredients in a bolognaise sauce, or adding ‘secret’ ingredients (usually vegetables!) to dishes is all fun when the outcomes are unexpected.
Cooking with your children allows you to have a wonderful time with your child, really engaging them in complex thought processes, making learning connections and enjoying the fruits of your labours together. Making sure that hands, equipment and surfaces are washed, that safety practices are observed (health and safety), weighing and measuring ingredients (maths), mixing, pouring, heating and cooling (scientific processes), and eating (social and emotional) all happen without children really realizing that something wonderful is going on. By cooking with your child you can help them appreciate how amazing everything is. Direct their thoughts by asking questions such as: How can we make that? Why did that happen? What do you think will happen if..? These questions generate so many possible answers when cooking that it becomes a true ‘open-ended’ learning experience for everyone!
Take some time to choose a recipe together, shop for the ingredients together and then have fun cooking – and eating – together. What a great way to be scientists!
Vanessa L Temple
Coordinator: Foundation Years at Hartland International School
Read more about Hartland International School.