Cooking is a life skill, an educational tool and also just great fun. It is an excellent way to help children of all ages learn. Cooking enables children to work in a variety of curriculum fields simultaneously. From maths to English, science to geography, history to PSHE, cooking can be the tool which helps children practically explore many areas of education and life, often without even noticing they are learning.
I used to teach in a special needs secondary school where cooking was taught both as a subject and as a social activity. They ran ‘foody-Friday’ where the students planned, budgeted, purchased, prepared, cooked and ate food together in their tutor groups. These are skills which are fantastic for all ages and abilities. For some children, just getting involved in all these areas and seeing how they all fit together is enough; for other children, taking responsibility for the whole process is excellent practice for life.
For some students at the school, this was one of their few experiences of eating as a social activity. This activity stimulated communication skills and social skills as well as cooking skills. Cooking is also a great way to teach practical number skills with weights and measures. Portions and cutting also explore maths skills and make them practical and relevant. Cooking can also be used to teach the basic chemistry behind cookery. At home, we have The River Cottage Family Cookbook which is great at simply explaining a lot of the science behind the techniques.
Cooking is also a life skill. To live independently, you need to have basic cooking skills. For students with special needs it is especially important to ensure that they have the skills that they need in order to achieve the appropriate independence, but cooking is also important for everyone. I will never forget the friend who attempted to make cauliflower cheese at university by putting a whole, raw cauliflower into the oven with a packet of cheese sauce; nor the high-flying city exec. friend who always ate take away and burnt a dozen eggs without creating a single fried egg worth consuming!
At home I’ve always tried to involve my daughter, and now my younger son, in cooking, but when my daughter was about 3 years old a particular play-date made me reassess how I cook with children. My friend suggested the kids make banana bread. I am a self-confessed control freak, but I hadn’t realised how this had impacted on my cooking with my daughter. My friend let the children do everything. They weighed and measured, stirred and poured and had great fun. Yes they made a mess and yes, some of the measurements may have gone a little awry, but it made me realise that it’s not a perfect product that is the ultimate goal, it’s taking part and enjoying. My daughter wanted to be a part of the whole process at my friend’s house, where at home she often got bored half way through and wandered off.
Now she is older, she helps out a lot with cooking, from snacks and treats to main meals and puddings. She chooses recipes, reads the cooking steps and makes simple recipes with very little help. She often cooks things from other countries, cultures or time periods, which is a fantastic all round learning activity. She even helps her 19 month old brother join in with stirring and rolling type activities, which he loves – especially the mess – and I have learnt you can clear that up later!
So, there we go, children can and should be encouraged to join in with cooking. It benefits them in life skills, mathematical skills, sciences skills and it stimulates them creatively and socially. It can be a bonding and enjoyable experience for children and parents alike. From icing fairy cakes to helping to make dinner, from an early age children can learn from being involved in food.