Baking Up Some Literacy

Baking up something yummy is always fun, but even more so when it is frightfully crisp outside. Winter is a perfect time to engage children, young and old, in working alongside you in the kitchen. Kids in the kitchen can be quite the adventure, both for learning and for the not so fun cleanup. Children’s inquisitive minds will wonder such things as, “How does something so gloppy come out so deliciously raised, chewy, or crispy?”

I have one daughter who thinks she can just throw stuff in a bowl and it magically come out delicious. To be a good cook, baker, or chef, one must know how to read, and later have an understanding of even chemistry and science. As much as all mothers probably have dreamed of the dinner flop magically turning into a work of art for the taste buds, it just isn’t so.

Although cooking isn’t for everyone, cooking is a great way to get children excited about reading. What happens if you misread the recipe and add two tablespoons of baking soda instead of two teaspoons? YUCK! What about when you just skim the instructions and completely miss the part about dividing the amount of liquid for one part of the recipe and saving the other part for a sauce or glaze? Most likely the recipe will never set because there is too much liquid. Obviously this amateur cook has encountered such catastrophes due to negligence in accurately reading the instructions. Therefore, following a recipe and creating a successful dessert or meal requires focus and attention to detail; both of which are important in literacy. Cooking will give children fun practice in reading and in understanding other academic subjects such as math and science. Come to think of it, cooking can even foster a love of other cultures; thus cooking incorporates even social studies.

Cooking and math: If the recipe calls for a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and you want to double the recipe, how much salt will be added? A fun task for older children is to have them make the recipe in more challenging fractions; such as make a 3/4 batch or a batch and a half of cookies. You might even find that your math skills have gotten a little rusty and could benefit from such a challenge as well.

Cooking and science: What happens when you put cream and a dash of salt in a baby food jar and shake it vigorously? Why did this happen? My not-so-scientific mind says it happens because fats like to stick together. Shaking the jar is like a great big party and the fats in the cream start a mosh pit and jump into each other, the more you shake the jar, the more they mosh! Now, if you are scientifically minded or want your kids to be, there is a more scientific explanation. The not as fun explanation goes something like this: Churning physically agitates the cream until it ruptures the fragile membranes surrounding the milk fat. Once broken, the fat droplets can join with each other and form clumps of fat. As churning continues, larger clusters of fat collect until they begin to form a network with the air bubbles that are….blah blah blah, look it up on wikipedia.

Cooking and social studies: Hamburgers and french fries, a common food in America. Is there more to eat than this? As much as I enjoy a really good gourmet burger, there are countless varieties of dishes from around the world that equal in comfort and deliciousness as a hamburger. Pick a country to learn about with your child(ren). Then search the internet for authentic recipes from the chosen country. Prepare the recipe and while you enjoy the fruits, or meats, of your labors discuss what you learned about the country. What you like about the food or don’t like about the food.

Written by: Suzanna Tolman

Here are just a few books to wet your appetite: