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Kitchen Math: Teaching Kids Counting, Patterning & Sorting

Teaching Kids Math in the Kitchen

Have you ever noticed that you're most likely to learn - and retain - a specific skill when you actually have to use it? You can take a class on computer programming, tax preparation, or woodworking, but unless you have regular, hands-on opportunities to practice what you learned, you're likely to forget it.

Children are no different. Worksheets and flash cards might introduce basic principles, such as adding or subtracting, but children need to use these skills in everyday life. Through these experiences, abstract concepts become concrete and meaningful, and knowledge just seems to stick better.

This is good news for parents. We don't have to come up with elaborate learning activities to teach children skills, but we can reinforce lessons through simply daily routines. Take cooking, for instance. Food preparation is something we do every day, and it's also something that most children enjoy. With just a little thought and preparation, even very young children can help in the kitchen. Cooking and working with food is a pleasurable experience that builds relationships and memories. It's also a great way to reinforce math skills.

Kitchen Math Activities for Kids

  • Set the table. The simple task of setting the table offers myriad opportunities to strengthen math concepts. Ask your child to count out the appropriate number of plates, glasses, and cups. Demonstrate how to set a service - where to put the silverware and glasses. Then ask your child to set the table just as you did, which is an excellent exercise in patterning and visual discrimination. Set the table with cups of varying sizes and ask your child to use a measuring cup to pour the drinks. Point out that one cup of water is always one cup of water, but it looks different, depending on the size and shape of the container.
  • Organize the pantry. Your pantry offers a treasure trove of learning opportunities. Ask your child to help you put groceries away. Compare different types of cereal, grains or pasta. How are they the same? How are they different? Point out quantities of items. Which containers have more? Which have less?
  • Get cooking. Children of all ages love to help in the kitchen. Cooking with children not only encourages healthy food habits and valuable life skills, but they learn basic math concepts such as measurements, fractions, and counting. While making a salad, ask your child to count 10 cherry tomatoes. Add 10 pepper slices, olives, or cucumbers. Point out fractions in cooking - ½ cup, ¼ cup, 1 cup. Cut sandwiches, pizza, and cheese slices into fourths, thirds, and halves. If you have a kitchen scale, let your child help you measure dry ingredients.

Cooking with your child can be a fun, learning-packed experience. To get the most out of it, prepare ingredients and equipment ahead of time. Gear your cooking experiences to your child's interest and developmental level. Older elementary-age children, for example, can safely use a blender or griddle with supervision. Let younger children help measure, pour, and stir ingredients but keep them away from hot surfaces or sharp tools.

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