The holiday season is upon us and the time is ripe to infuse special activities with language learning opportunities. One activity nearly every family engages in is cooking. Even if you don’t plan to host any guests in your home, you can take advantage of vacation time and school breaks to teach your children through cooking.
Make recipes kid-friendly:
If your child doesn’t read yet, recipes can be modified to teach important concepts such as sequencing. With a little extra time, you can make a recipe more understandable for your child. If your family loves chocolate chip cookies, retype your favorite recipe onto a document in a large font and add pictures. Divide the recipe into steps, and pick a picture or clipart to represent each ingredient or step. For instance, one step might be to add one cup of flour to a large bowl. Your picture can be a bag of flour, and you can type “Put 1 cup of flour in the bowl.”
At the end of this post, find an example recipe for Red Ants on a Log. The recipe was easily created using Microsoft Word and free clip art.
Help your child match, learn new words and follow directions:
If you decide to make a kid-friendly recipe, have your child look for the ingredient that matches the one pictured. If you need apples, tell your child to go find them in the fridge or fruit bowl. Should your recipe require items your child is unfamiliar with, you can teach your child new vocabulary, like “tablespoon” and “mixing bowl.” Another option is to add adjectives by referring to a teaspoon as “the little spoon” and a tablespoon as “the big spoon.”
Think about how you present each direction to your child. Use simple language for a younger child, such as “Get one apple.” If your child is older, combine directions to work on following multiple steps, like “Get one apple, cinnamon, and the apple slicer, then put them on the counter.”
Make cooking a regular activity:
Try doing a family cooking activity on a regular basis, whether it’s once a week or once a month. Family members can get involved by taking turns picking recipes and sharing responsibilities. If you tend to repeat simple recipes like making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or macaroni and cheese, eventually have your child guide you through the recipe. This is a great way for your child to think about the end goal of the recipe and break it down into steps for you to follow. Have fun with it- if your child leaves out a detail, play on it. Should your child say “Put the peanut butter on the bread,” stick the whole jar on a slice of bread. Laugh about it together and see if your child corrects you by adding more information. If not, help him or her out by offering choices: “Do I need to open the peanut butter or turn it upside down?”
Take it from the kitchen to play:
A huge amount of children's learning occurs through play. Help your child practice the vocabulary and skills they have learned in the kitchen by equipping them with a culinary play set. If you don't have a play kitchen, think about heading to Ikea or the Dollar Tree to get some cheap utensils for them to play with, and look for old pots and pans in your kitchen. Join in your child's play by asking him or her to make you something you've made in the kitchen. You can also play "restaurant" and take turns cooking up delicious play entrees for each other. When you're the chef, talk about each step you would normally go through as you act it out to reinforce the language and vocabulary your child is learning.
- Click here for a collection of healthy recipes created with kids in mind. Options range from cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches to muffins to slider recipes. There are even recipes listed for children who are lactose intolerant, have diabetes or have celiac disease.
- The Food Network has a slideshow of recipes that are well suited to make with kids.
- Rachel Ray created a non-profit website to get kids and families cooking together. All the recipes on the site are meant to be made as a team.