Ways to Teach Math & Literacy Skills through Cooking
When I pull out a muffin pan and cupcake liners, my kids shout out offers to help.
Lining the muffin pan with liners was their first “job” in the kitchen as toddlers, and it’s one they still love today. They loved it because it was fun, not because I told them it was time for “pre-math skills.” But don’t we as parents love it when we find ways to incorporate math, literacy and science into everyday life?
Give a young child a cookie sheet and 12 cookies, and watch him problem solve as he makes the dozen fit onto the sheet. Or give a first grader a ¼ measuring cup, and tell her you need 1 cup of flour. Watch her little mind do the math.
Patty Banes, [former] director of the Boston Avenue Weekday School, told me the kitchen is one of her favorite places to reinforce math and literacy skills. And, it’s something the teachers at her school do with students. Even toddlers can understand math concepts by watching a teacher pour water into two cups, and then ask the question, “Which is the smallest and which is the biggest?”
“It starts very young. Learning begins with real objects and experiences,” Banes said. “If you have a square sandwich and a round cookie, you can ask a 2-year-old to identify the circle and square.”
For parents, those teachable moments may be easier while out running errands than while hurriedly making dinner.
“Parents don’t realize how many opportunities they have in a day to make sure their children are learning math and language skills,” Banes said.
So, instead of thinking, ‘Oh, we haven’t done any counting today… I better get out the flash cards,’ Banes says to seize the opportunity while you’re out living life.
“When you’re at the grocery store and see a package of grapes, have the children guess how many are in the package. Then count them when you get home,” she said.
Another fun example is for young children to count how many colors of apples they see at the grocery store.
Mealtimes are often crazy at my house, and don’t always leave time for teachable moments. Banes said, practically speaking, Saturday mornings are good for carving out time for help in the kitchen with the kids. Let them help you make pancakes, making sure to leave time for scooping and counting, and let older children read the recipe.
“You have more energy in the morning. It’s a time when everyone’s agreeable. Kids want to help, you just have to take the time to let them,” Banes said.
Banes said besides the educational benefit, involving children in everyday tasks has another payoff: creating responsible young adults.
“My girls both love to cook now,” she said. “They always helped me sort clothes, set the table. I didn’t have to worry when they went off the college, `Will they survive?’ They knew how to cook, they knew how to do laundry.”
So next time you’re making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ask your toddler to identify the shape. Cut it in half, and ask her again. Watch her eyes light up when she sees that you just made a new shape.
Let the kids measure, mix and count when making this basic pancake recipe.
Saturday Morning Pancakes
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter. Mix until smooth. Overmixing will make tough pancakes, so don’t beat the batter.
Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.
This recipe, from “Cooking Light First Foods,” is a great muffin for young children. It has plenty of sweetness, but is steadied with oats and whole-wheat flour. Let your children line those muffin pans, and count the blueberries as they’re dropping them in the batter.
Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
- 1 2/3 cups quick-cooking oats
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups frozen blueberries
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place oats in a food processor; pulse 5 to 6 times until oats resemble coarse meal. Place in a large bowl.
Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add flours and next 5 ingredients to oats in bowl; stir well with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture.
Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients in small bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.
Toss berries with 2 tablespoons flour, and gently fold into batter. Spoon batter into 16 muffin cups coated with cooking spray; sprinkle 2 tablespoons granulated sugar evenly over batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pans immediately; place on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cooking and STEM
The Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance continues to make science, technology, engineering and math exhilarating, challenging and fun. Executive Director Xan Black shared four ways to experiment in the kitchen using STEM principles.
- Science – Discuss taste, and how different areas of the tongue detect specific tastes. For older children, explore the chemistry of cooking by mixing acids, spices, fats and sugar to achieve balance of taste.
- Technology – Look at the tools you’re using to make work in the kitchen easier and food tastier. Make a list of all the technology used in cooking, for example, peelers, blenders, ovens and mixers. If you were going to invent a new kitchen tool, what would it be?
- Engineering – Think like an industrial engineer, considering the process and timing of activities to maximize efficiency. What will take the longest to prepare? Will two items fit in the oven at the same time? Which items need to be served hot? Make a plan for the order in which things should be cooked to prepare delicious food.
- Mathematics – Cooking offers rigorous and relevant opportunities to explore mathematics. Talk about conversion, such as cups in a pint and quarts in a gallon. Let children measure spices and become familiar with comparative sizes. While grocery shopping, children can estimate what the cost of ingredients would be, and then compare to the actual cost.