Written by Alice Currah, PBS Parents Kitchen Explorers Weekly Contributor
Most of us who grew up watching "Sesame Street" are familiar with the song by the lovable blue Cookie Monster called "C is for Cookie." It is recognized by millions of people around the world for its catchy tune and predictable outcome: the Cookie Monster gets his cookie. The lesson for parents is that learning to read should be fun, interactive, and engaging.
For the Cookie Monster, "C" may be for cookie, but in our home, "C" is for cooking. From the time each of my children was old enough to stand on a chair next to the kitchen counter, I have tried to make our special time cooking or baking together into a learning opportunity disguised as fun time spent well in the family kitchen. I've tried to incorporate three important life skills that will serve them well into their adult lives: math, reading, and cooking.
With math, the focus for my preschool-aged son has been to count cups slowly in goofy voices as we fill each one with ingredients for a recipe. We count them again every time we dump them into a mixing bowl. With my older daughters, my focus has been to help them understand fractions contained in recipes. It's not unusual for a conversation to go something like this: "We are going to make a half batch of brownies. This recipe calls for 1 ½ cups of flour. How much flour do we need?" Helping my 9-year-old daughter visually comprehend fractions through cooking measurements has turned out to be a valuable teaching tool considering her struggles with understanding fractions. Using whole cups, half cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons, I showed her how to multiply and divide in a way she could understand, which led to a light bulb moment for her. Much frustration seemed to be wiped from Mimi's memory once she got it -- and boy, did she get it.
Building literacy skills through cooking not only gives children confidence in the kitchen; it also encourages them to develop a hunger for reading and an appetite for home-cooked meals. For preschool-aged kids, one tip I give parents is to cook from easy recipes using ingredients familiar to their children. This will instantly engage their interests if it is a dish they love. For example, read the recipes together, and focus on enunciating words slowly and clearly, then having the child repeat them. Aaaaaa-pple. Apple! Consider singing each ingredient in silly ways to captivate them and keep their attention on task. As your children grow a little older and begin to recognize letters, spell each ingredient out loud. Milk. M-I-L-K. Milk. Teaching young children how to read and say each word out loud correctly lays a strong literary foundation to build upon. As an added benefit, when kids get to eat the fruit of their labor, they learn another valuable life skill -- cooking with confidence!
Cooking in the kitchen can be fun and educational without seeming boring or mundane -- and the quality time spent working together is a great way to strengthen not only your child's reading muscles, but also great relationships.
Here are 5 easy and delicious summer recipes from PBS Parents Kitchen Explorers to cook up in your family kitchen with your children.