Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We spend a LOT of time in our kitchen. Almost our meals are made from scratch with few conveniences or short-cuts. I joke that with all this exposure to creating meals, my children will either be world-class chefs or complete microwave meal addicts who can’t stand to make anything from real food! Happily right now they do love to be involved in the kitchen and we all learn a lot in the process.
In fact after reflecting on it all I realize that our kitchen (and probably yours too), is really an unschooling classroom where we learn just through living and enjoying ourselves. Here are some of the things I have identified that we’ve been learning recently through our time in the kitchen. (For those who don’t know us well, my daughter, Keeyah is 3 years 4 months and my son Amarii is 2 years 1 month)
Good hygiene. I encourage washing hands well before and after we prepare food – this can turn into a game in itself or be purely functional. At the recent Caribbean Week of Agriculture, we picked up a booklet on food safety which features a range of comic strips on various topics of good food preparation. They are entertaining stories in which one young girl guides her rather clueless Dad through the basics of food safety. Keeyah wanted to read them non-stop in the first few days we got them and expanded her vocabulary to include words such as ‘bacteria’, ‘parasites’ and ‘cross-contamination’! We often naturally talk about the stories relevant to what we are doing at the time.
Water play. When washing hands becomes a game the wet play begins. Washing up at the sink is an activity Keeyah really enjoys. She stands on her bench wearing her homemade waterproof apron and sometimes she will wash almost all the items in the sink! She knows the process of soaping the dishes and then rinsing them afterwards before stacking them on the drainer. Amarii is happy to sit on a large towel and play in a large pot filled with water and various objects such as utensils and small lids. I have learned not to give him any empty vessels otherwise the water gets emptied real quickly.
Counting & Measuring. Of course there are always loads of thing to count in the kitchen – plates, cups, spoons. Hmmm, well actually we probably don’t have enough of any of these to be worth counting! But they do always help me to press the buttons on the blender and it’s a game to press the right number according to what I ask. (I also let Keeyah dial numbers on the phone for her to have fun and be comfortable with numbers) Through measuring ingredients for cakes Keeyah is aware of the difference in sizes between cups, tablespoons, teaspoons. She is also learning to remember the recipes we use and quantities of each ingredient.
Pretend and imaginative play. Because we do spend so much time in the kitchen, it was a priority for me to set up a lot of space for them to play. They have a wooden oven and some play food, pots and utensils. They also have the space of 3 cupboards to themselves. So sometimes they are chefs, market stall vendors, farmers and other times they climb in the cupboards and play hide and seek. I have noticed their interest in using the items has been waning lately, maybe as a result of being more interested in getting their hands on the real food. Nonetheless I’ll occasionally get a good pretend meal! Keeyah is taken with using her mushrooms as pepper sauce at the moment and has to ask everyone if they want pepper sauce with their meal and we pretend the food is hot and spicy!
Agricultural knowledge. Living on an island where agriculture plays such an important role and their father being the coordinator for Organic agriculture in Dominica, both Keeyah & Amarii have a good awareness of where and how food grows and some pretty impressive plant identification skills! They are active in keeping our veranda garden of potted herbs watered as we use them every day for ‘bush tea’. Sometimes as we cook or using items of her pretend food, Keeyah initiates a game where she will ask me where each of the food grows – e.g. Pumpkins on a vine on top of the ground, Potatoes underground, Guavas in a tree etc… I have recently added some posters of fruits and vegetables in their play space which they enjoy looking at, identifying each item and talking about their experience of that particular food and how it tastes. At the moment they are keen to try eggplant again as it is their favourite colour: purple! (See their Daddy talking about Organic Agriculture on Episode 211 of ‘Growing a Greener World’ here)
Vocabulary & reading skills. The kitchen has many distinct objects that provide a unique realm of words. The range of signs, labels and books provide an easy familiarity with the written word. They have alphabet fridge magnets and words are since words are in so many places the children often spell out things, from the brand name of the oven to the names of ingredients on jars – t-u-m-e-r-i-c. I place a recipe book by their oven for them to look at and have fun with. They enjoy looking through the pictures, pretending to read the words and rotating the cookbooks also has the additional benefit of giving us more inspiration to try new things.
Food preparation and cooking. Obviously. Keeyah can contribute to making a number of meals and enjoys making a good ‘yam pie’. I love it when she gets involved for the fact that she is more likely to eat the food afterwards. She also likes to grate cocoa sticks for us to make chocolate cake. Amarii always asks to use the grater too and just a few days ago I gave him the small grater and a piece of Christophene. He enjoyed the process immensely – I mean my boy sat down absorbed in an activity for about 30 minutes!! Christophenes may well be a sacrificial vegetable in the house from now on.
Sensory food identification. As we eat certain foods we naturally identify various flavours of salty, bitter, sweet or sour. My kiddos especially like salty food often asking to lick the end of the pestle after we have crushed the salt! To satisfy their salty cravings they eat olives. They also identify the smells of food as it cooks. I have yet to make any ‘smelling jars’ but less formally they often smell (and sometimes identify) the spices and herbs we use.
Sign language. We continue to use American Sign Language (ASL) for fun even though my kiddos are able to communicate their needs verbally. It’s a wonderful addition to our conversations that we all enjoy. In the kitchen we sing some of the songs from the Signing Time episode ‘Time to Eat’ and practice the food related signs. As a result of this episode both the kiddos also really enjoy saying and signing ‘May I be excused?’ at the end of a meal – great manners without me having to say a thing!
Eco-living. They are learning the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable items with the awareness that food scraps go in the compost bin and other trash in the bin. (We generate a lot of compost in our house, generally filling up a 30lb bucket every 2-3 days.)
Health & Wellness. Keeyah already knows that we eat brown bread and rice instead of white, local provisions and lots of fruit and vegetables to keep us healthy. They drink a lot of water. I casually talk to them about different nutrients available in our foods and what food groups the food in our meals belongs to. This week Keeyah told me that she was eating oranges to give her vitamins to keep a cold away.
Gratitude. At mealtimes we often sing either a simple – ‘Give thanks for our food’ or one of the beautiful songs featured in the book Seven Times the Sun. This one is our favourite: ‘We thank the Creator for the harvest of the Earth, We thanks the Earth for its food/We thank the food for its gift of life/To the one who prepared it we give our gratitude!’
Creativity. A bit of this and bit of that, substitutions, inspired moments, new experiments, presentation…there are many ways the preparation of food is a highly creative process. Plus we sing in the kitchen. And sometimes dance.
Contrast & Opposites. They enjoy the contrast of hot and cold in the kitchen – the oven is hot whilst the fridge and freezer are cold. They also feel and witness the difference between ‘clean and chaos’ as our kitchen ebbs and flows between these two poles throughout the day! Keeyah goes through stages where she couldn’t care less how everything is placed to being very particular about it and meticulously putting everything in place.
Recipe making and writing. For me! Cooking for my kids is a daily journey on the roller-coaster of their tastes, preferences, moods and making various adaptations along the way. For the past few months I’ve been writing a Recipe EBook. To say that it has taken me months would imply that it is packed to the rafters of all the experiments that spring forth from our kitchen but no – it’s a 7-day main meal planner which includes staples of our diet using Caribbean foods. Being so busy in the kitchen and doing a gazillion other things it has taken me a long time to write-up but it should be out within the next few days or weeks so please watch this space!
So tell me – what are you up to in the kitchen?
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 8 with all the carnival links.)