Here are a few things to consider when implementing cooking in the classroom:
Equipment – Not all programs have access to a kitchen with an stove top or oven. That should not stop you from exploring the many no-bake recipes that are available. Think outside the box when considering recipes and looking for options that could be brought into the classroom. Think about blenders for smoothies, dehydrators for dried fruits, toaster ovens, crock-pots, etc. There are also many different salads and mixes children can make – check out the no-bake section for a few ideas!
Safety – Supervision is very important when cooking with children. Consider working in small groups to make supervision easier when conducting cooking activities. Create a list of rules or cooking project expectations, including one that states that only adults touch items used for cooking food.
Sanitation – We cannot stress enough the importance of hand washing as a means to prevent the spread of disease. This is another reason that working in small groups is a good idea. When working with a large group it is too difficult to ensure that children’s hands remain clean throughout the cooking activity. There’s just too much wait-time, and not enough supervision; little hands and minds get bored (and then dirty) if they have to wait an extended amount of time for their turn to pour in an ingredient. Also, take steps to be sure that all equipment and cooking surfaces have been properly cleaned and sanitized before use.
Food Allergies – Be sure you are aware of any food allergies that affect the children in your care. Avoid recipes that call for ingredients that pose a risk for children in your program.
Frequency – Consider incorporating cooking into the curriculum on a regular basis. Each program is unique in its access to resources. Work with program leadership to determine a reasonable budget for cooking activities.
Developmental appropriateness – When planning cooking activities, reflect on the developmental levels of the children in your care. Use this information to make decisions about the cooking tasks that children can try, or even how you organize small groups. You could create small groups based on different skills that children are working to develop and incorporate those skills into cooking activities.
Tools and materials – Find bowls and utensils that are easy and safe for children to use. Use smaller measuring pitchers that are easier for children to manipulate when full. Think about how to make cutting a safe activity for younger children. For example, toddlers can cut a banana into small pieces using a plastic knife or even a spoon. School-age children can peel and chop vegetables with adult supervision. Adapt materials to give children as many opportunities to participate as possible.
Recipe illustrations – Help children understand the instructions of the recipe by rewriting the instructions using illustrations. Use a magnetic white board or felt board for this along with cut outs of the ingredients and tools required to complete the recipe. If the recipe calls for 2 cups of milk, place a picture of milk and 2 illustrations of 1 cup on the board. After children add a cup, remove one of the cup illustrations. You could also put a check mark next to or on top of the tasks that have been completed to help children follow the directions.
Embrace the mess – Yes, there will be spills. Clean them up and move on!
Healthy options – Limit sugary desserts when cooking with children. Remember, one of the major goals of cooking with children is to introduce healthy foods.
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