Oh, modern parenting woes. ‘I want to keep my child engaged, yet it should feel manageable for me…I’m okay with screens, but it should be healthy for them’. And then came COVID. And you had to engage your kids at home. And, their development had to continue. Phewww.
Let’s just take a deep breath here…and hit the kitchen?
Yes, the kitchen! That lip-smackingly awesome hub of addition, subtraction, division, fractions, weights, measures, and practical math puzzles for kids. If you’re wondering whether we’ve mixed up our blogs, the answer is NO.
The kitchen is one of the most valuable places for family bonding and practical learning. Apart from cooking itself being a life-skill, research shows there are many other benefits of getting kids involved in the kitchen. Let’s explore how to engage kids using the surprisingly expansive potential of a kitchen for learning math!
Estimation and measurements
‘A handful of cloves’, ‘1 tbsp of olive oil’, ‘2 cups of lentils’, isn’t this how we think when we’re in the kitchen? There’s plenty of practical math questions for kids here. For example; how many cloves make a handful? What are the approximate sizes of each garlic clove (they can use their hands to indicate estimates)? How many smaller spoons can accommodate one tablespoon? What is the size of a cup? Even the simplest of everyday functions in the kitchen involve plenty of estimation and measurement. It’s a great place for children to start. Aside from getting an extra pair of hands to help and building a crucial life skill, the kitchen helps kids understand how math translates to the real world, and WHY it is necessary. All in a ‘tasteful’ way. Depending on their age group, you can have different math activities for kids:
They can help lay the table. Teach them to estimate the sizes of plates for adults and kids. They can count the number of plates, bowls, and spoons.
Ages 2-3 and up
Kids can engage in ‘taste testing’, which is a very developmentally beneficial activity. It helps them start associating different flavors. Build a rating system where they grade their favorites, or the intensity of a flavor. For example; “Taste this and tell me if it’s too salty.” 5/5 is too much, ⅕ is too little. 2 or 3, out of 5 is ideal. Whisking liquid ingredients until they reach a certain texture is also a good activity to understand the relationship between time and effort.
Ages 4-5 and up
Kids can follow instructions for simple recipes. Their motor skills will allow for more complex tasks like cutting fruits (with a safer plastic knife). Basic geometry can be introduced here, by encouraging them to cut these fruits in specific shapes (for example; a triangle, rectangle, rhombus, etc.) Activities like kneading dough and cracking eggs allow for an understanding of force production, and keeps kids engaged.
Ages 6-7 and up
They can be involved in simple recipe planning. A great math activity would be to create a recipe together, and work on making it together too. This will involve plenty of collaboration, family bonding AND math! Another great activity at this age is meal planning. Introduce them to basic ideas of macronutrients, and incorporate that into their decision making. There’s PLENTY of addition, subtraction, fractions, multiplication and division going around here.
Ages 8-9 and up
Kids can be involved in more complex estimation like heat measurement, observation of timing, etc. For example, if the recipe says ‘lightly caramelized onions’, you can ask your little one “What level of heat do you plan on using?” “How long does it take at different heat levels?”, “How often do you flip?” At this age, cooking can also serve as a gateway to practical applications of physics, much of which is rooted in mathematics.
Here are some everyday math activities for kids
Baking, in particular, is a great way to introduce the concept of fractions. Go ahead and make the batter for a yummy (and healthy) cake with proportions of ¼ cup, ½ cup and 1 cup of the special ingredients. Then, experiment with fractions for timing. Bake for 30 minutes or ½ an hour? Physically, lay out the ingredients and different measuring cups and spoons. Ask your child to pick one and then adjust proportions accordingly. Spend some time playing around before the actual baking begins!
Cutting and serving
Whether it’s a roast, pie, or that droolicious cake you baked, get your child to decide serving portions AFTER counting the number of people who will be eating. Enquire about appetite levels (for example; ‘Are you really hungry or would a smaller slice be okay?’) and then estimate portions. You could even dramatize the whole thing into a math problem. “Dad normally eats 1 big plate when he’s hungry, but he said he’s only half-hungry, so how big a slice should I give him?” This type of estimation is a foundation for daily mental math, geometry, and–in advanced math–the reasonable correctness of an answer.
Deseeding fruits (where necessary)
Another detail-oriented, fun math activity in the kitchen! Especially valuable for ages 5-8 years. Get a fruit basket from the grocery store with a mix of different fruits. Ask your child to segregate the fruits into their various categories—grapes, berries, bananas, avocados, apples, etc. Ask them to figure out how many fruits each family member will have and then, divide the overall quantity and variety accordingly. For example, 1 bunch of grapes for mom, 1 apple, 2 cups of berries, and ½ an avocado. Deseeding is a way for the slightly older ones to improve their fine motor skills, and understand concepts of relative proportion. “How much pulp is there, compared to the seed(s)?”
Find a recipe from a different metric system. They might be totally different to what you normally use or see. For example, some European measurement systems use grams instead of pounds or ounces. Here, you will have to encourage your child to use algebra skills and find the conversion factor and unknown variables. This involves research, multiplication, division, visual estimation and more.
You can always speak in terms of math questions. Here are some examples:
If I need 1 cup of rice for 2 people, how many will I need for 4?
If I need 2 cups of rice for 4 people, but dad isn’t eating today, how many cups should I use?
We have six pieces of cake, and three people, how many pieces will each person get?
Are there more grapes or oranges in your fruit bowl?
Are there more grape seeds or orange seeds per fruit bowl?
How many shapes can we cut this sandwich in?
If I join two slices of pie, what shape am I getting?
You need to heat the curry bowl twice as long as the other one. How do you adjust the microwave timer?
And so on…
While not a ‘kitchen activity’ per se, grocery shopping can also be integrated into the experience. After all, why not use this as an activity for your kid to develop planning skills, budgeting, and more? ALL of these involve math!
If you approach each kitchen function as a math puzzle or question for your child, the learning possibilities are immense. Almost as immense as what you can do with some ‘magic’ ingredients. Almost.
No matter what, it’s a fantastic way to spend time as a family together!