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Kitchen Magic: Teaching Science & Math through Cooking

We sometimes view learning as something separate from living, but children often learn the most from simple, everyday activities. Cooking and working with food offer a wealth of such teaching opportunities. When children prepare meals with a beloved family member, they learn valuable lessons about family togetherness, healthy living, and tradition. But have you ever thought of the kitchen as a science lab? Through cooking activities, children learn many basic science and math concepts.

Math & Science Skills Children Learn by Cooking

Properties of matter and the role of temperature. The kitchen is an excellent place to teach children about liquids, gases, and solids. Through baking and cooking, children come to understand how temperature changes matter. A thick liquid cake batter becomes a solid when baked. Maple syrup loses its viscosity (resistance to flow) when it is heated, becoming thinner and easier to pour.

• Try it out: pour cream in a bowl and you have a liquid. Toss it in an ice cream maker with some sugar though, and it transforms, first becoming a viscous liquid and later, a solid. Heat water in a teapot and watch the steam come from the spout. Make a batch of cookies with your child. Point out that the dough is soft and pliable. After baking, the cookies are still soft, but as they cool, they become hard.

Chemical reactions. One of the most fascinating aspects of cooking, and in particular, baking, is the change that occurs when a few simple ingredients combine. Add yeast to a bread dough or baking powder to a muffin batter, and bubbles form. These bubbles leaven the baked good to create a light, fluffy product. Without their power, your favorite cookies or cakes would be dense, dry, and hard.

• Try it out: learn more about chemical reactions through some simple baking projects. Combine yeast with sugar and warm water and let it sit for 20 minutes. What changes do you see? What does the yeast smell like? Make a simple pancake batter with your child. Point out how the batter rises as the pancakes cook on the griddle.

Measurements and volume. As children work in the kitchen, they learn about fractions and wholes. They also discover that the same amount of liquid in a measuring cup may appear differently in a shallow bowl, even though the actual amount hasn't changed.

• Try it out: ask an older child to carefully help you cut sandwiches, pizza, or fruit in half or in fourths. Show your child measuring cups and let him help you measure ingredients. Fill a measuring cup with water. Pour the water into different bowls. Does it look different? Now pour it back into the measuring cup to demonstrate that the amount hasn't changed.

When cooking with young children, keep projects simple and safe. Gather all your materials ahead of time. Young children can help with pouring, stirring, and mixing, but take extra care around the stove top or sharp equipment.

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