If you’ve spent much time at all working with kids, you know that having an actual physical experience—moving, manipulating, role playing—is a great way to help kids learn. It helps them get the wiggles out, it helps them see the concept in a different way, and it gives them a connection to help remember what they’ve learned. It’s probably a lot more complicated than that, but it’s been a long, long time since I was in college. Anyway, after several years in the classroom and several more years with my own kids, I can tell you that one of kids’ favorite experiences is eating.
There are lots of fun ways to include food in learning! One of the easiest ways is to find foods from places you’re learning about. This year my son is taking a geography class and each week they have a different food from the country they’re covering that day. It’s a great way to introduce your child to new tastes and textures, too. If they happen to be hesitant about trying something, there are always creative alternatives. When we learned about Japan, we made fruit roll-up sushi; this kind of sushi actually was eaten, whereas the real kind would have gone to waste. If you know your kids aren’t going to eat it, don’t waste your time and money creating a foreign food buffet!
We’ve also had a lot of fun trying foods related to different books. Green eggs and ham is a simple meal we have most years for Read Across America Day. When we read The Little Red Hen, we baked bread together. Clearly, if the book title contains the word cake, you must bake a cake. Last month we worked on a chocolate unit and this week we’re finishing up a pizza unit, so we’ve had lots of opportunities for taste-testing.
History is another way to bring food into your lessons. When I taught fifth grade, we had an Explorers Day where we brought in foods from the New World. When we studied colonial America, we made pound cake. I still remember making sourdough bread during a cowboy unit when I was in elementary school! This year we are learning about one President each week and we are trying their favorite foods, too!
My favorite category of cooking is probably “Food That Looks Like Something Else.” Kids get a kick out of eating special snacks. I’ve made beaver dams and traffic lights and tiny carrot patches and stained glass cookies. Will my son get into Harvard because of this? No, but we had fun and made good memories.
Besides being fun, cooking itself can be a great learning experience. Kids have to read and follow the recipe. There’s measuring practice and fractions, too. If you want to really get into it, you can make your own restaurant. We read Night of the Moonjellies when my son was in first grade and one of his favorite memories was setting up a restaurant like the one in the story. We painted signs, made a menu, and invited family over. He used lots of academic skills and we all had a wonderful time.
If you’re looking for something to spice up your days, head to the kitchen!