Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Very Best Classroom {#CarNatPar}

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 truly believe in unschooling.When I unschooled my oldest, we lived in California and I had to create a private school under the state's law. That meant a name for my "school". I chose "Learning is Life" because, well, learning is best done by merely living. We did something in the kitchen every day. Whether it was a science experiment with vinegar and baking soda or measuring the ingredients for play dough, my son was learning a ton of things. Once he chose to go to "real" school, though, his interest in all things kitchen-related waned until it was nonexistent. I just let it go and stopped trying to get him to try this experiment or bake that recipe with me. I was sad, but I understood.
Licking the beaters from his first cake-baking experience.

Then came Little Guy. He's a lot like me. He learns the same way and has the same type of intelligences as me. He was in the kitchen "helping" me (really doing stuff) when he was 18 months old. At first, we just had to keep going over the rules: No touching Mama's knife, Stir slowly - always!, Ask before you taste, No going by the stove or oven without Mama, Never touch the knobs on the stove. Because the kitchen can be a dangerous place, breaking the rules meant he'd get two warnings and on the third offense, he was done helping. He loved being in there with me, so he learned very quickly that those rules were never going to change and stopped trying to push his limits.
"Don't bother me right now - I'm trying to stir!"

Now, I really feel that little ones need to learn how to do things when they're interested and not when they're "old enough." So, as soon as I had confidence in Little Guy's understanding of The Rules, I let him begin helping with the more dangerous tasks - the big ones being stirring a pot on the stove and cutting vegetables. He was barely two years old when I taught him how to cook on the stove. He loves stirring and couldn't understand why I wouldn't let him do the one thing he was very good at (and proud of!) So, he learned about the hot fire under the pot. He learned about steam. He learned how to stir without splashing hot liquids.
Little hands knead bread perfectly.
 As he became more verbal, he asked questions that knocked my socks off. "Why did the dough get big?" (After we let our pizza dough rise.) "Why did it get like boogers?" (We were making gravy and he wanted to know how it thickened.) "What made it turn brown?" (When we pulled muffins from the oven.) All very good questions that I tried to give very simple answers to. "The yeast is like little guys. They ate the sugar and had to burp. See all of the burp bubbles in this dough that weren't there before?" "The flour we put into the juice from the meat sucked up some of the water (or is it oil?) and got fat. This made it thicken into gravy." And, "Remember the butter and eggs we put into the batter? They have something called proteins. When proteins get very hot, like in our oven, they turn brown. If we kept letting them cook, they would burn and turn black." Now, I know my answers aren't 100% accurate, but I was talking to a 2-year-old. He just wanted an answer, not a lecture. As he gets older, his questions will become more defines and I'll expand more.
How many spoons of peanut butter do we need?

In addition to learning science, he's learning math. We measure things all of the time. I always ask him to help me find measurements on the side of our measuring cup. He only recognizes whole numbers right now, so I ask him to find "1,2" if I want 1/2, for instance. We also do a lot of counting when we add ingredients - whether it's three cups, two eggs, or "one big spoon and one little spoon" of vanilla. We count pieces of carrot as we put them into the pot. We talk about time and watch our kitchen timer count down the minutes until our macaroni and cheese will be ready to take out of the oven.

Then there's reading. Little Guy is very interested in deciphering this reading thing. Just like his big brother, he doesn't like having everyone around him know how to communicate in a secret way that he doesn't understand. So, he knows many of his letters and the sounds they make already. When we cook together, I always take all of the ingredients we'll need out of the cupboards and set them on the counter where we'll be working. I make a point to read the recipe aloud while my finger runs below the words I'm reading. I'll read, "One teaspoon of nutmeg." Then it's his job to find the nutmeg on the counter. "Let's see, what letter does nnnn-nutmeg start with?" He'll get it right or wrong, doesn't matter. I'll either correct him or agree. The next step is, "Do you remember what an 'N' looks like? Can you find which one starts with 'N' for 'nutmeg'?" He usually gets it right! As he gets more comfortable with the alphabet and phonics (on his own!), I'll start asking about ending sounds, then middle sounds. Eventually, he'll be reading the recipe and I'll be searching for the ingredients!

History can be learned in the kitchen! This is where my oldest had the most fun. For over a year, he was very interested in all things medieval. We used out kitchen to learn about the Middle Ages more than anywhere else in or out of the house. We learned how to dye fabric using natural dyes. We did the old "castle out of sugar cubes" thing (we got a DK book and did a realistic replica that took months!) We made grog and tasted it - didn't like it! Once a week, we made a feast, using a recipe book we found at the library. We ate turkey legs with out hands, made bread and stews from scratch. We had to go shopping for ingredients we never heard of and had to learn how to make substitutions when we found that certain things just aren't available in the stores! We learned how people got their food - whether they grew it, bought it, or just did without. We learned about the weather back then and how hard it was for people to grow food in the cloudy and cold era. I haven't done a lot of history with Little Guy just yet. Past, Present, and Future are not something his mind is ready to understand just yet. I can't wait to see which time period he becomes interested in!
Crayon recycling. Look at the concentration on Little Guy's face - this is IMPORTANT work!

And, I think, that including Art and Music in the kitchen is wonderful. Whenever we head in there to create something, I put on music. I will choose something that goes with whatever we're making (for instance, country if we're making fried chicken) or that goes with our mood (upbeat for when there's excitement, something slow and relaxing when we need to concentrate on what we're doing.) And for art, well - we make lots of projects in there. We also make our own art supplies. We do the regular stuff, like play dough and recycled crayons. We also make glue, paint, and are going to make paper from junk mail and old clothes next month!

And, finally, there are those pesky "life skills" that are learned in the kitchen. Washing dishes, making your own meal, organizing cupboards, planning ahead (grocery lists), and general hygiene are just a few of the things they learn. Then there are the ones we don't think about: Emergency medical treatments (like when we learned about how you need to put cold water or ice on Mommy's burn.) And how to take things in stride and find solutions (like when we find out we're out of butter and are half-way through making a cake!)

Now, I haven't even touched on the part where they learn about where our food comes from! I'll spare you the novel and let you go check out some other posts in this month's Carnival of Natural Parenting. But, I need to tell you that my kids know about gardening and all the science that goes with it, how to find edible plants in the wild, how herbs can be used as medicine, how agriculture works, why buying your food selectively is important to your health and the environments... There's more, but I'm sure you get the point! The majority of our talks about these things occur in the kitchen as we use a particular ingredient.

Can you think of other ways that the kitchen is conducive to learning more than how to cook? I'd love to hear your ideas - Little Guy is at the perfect point in his mind where everything is interesting to him. The more ideas you can give me, the more I'll be able to help him learn in his favorite room in the house - The "Classroom".
Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


Sheila said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

That is awesome. When I used to teach second grade, our math class was full of imagined cooking activities. We would talk about baking cakes, measure water into a bowl, color oven dials ... but I kept thinking, "If only I was homeschooling these kids, we wouldn't need a curriculum to tell us this! We could just go make brownies and they would learn it naturally!"

And, apparently, it works great! Can't wait till mine is old enough to try some of this.

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Sheila My second grade teacher made navy bean soup in two crock pots for us. We all had a hand in measuring the ingredients for both pots - one had the right measurements, the other had estimated measurements. We each got a Dixie cup of both soups and learned, not only how to measure, but also the importance of following directions!

I'll never forget that experience and believe it helped lead me to a strong love of cooking.

Mindful Life Shop said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I love hearing about other families' "classrooms"! My kids love learning in the kitchen too. It is amazing all of the things we take for granted that come out of the heart of our homes.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

What awesome examples of the natural learning kids can do every time they enter the kitchen! Kitchen fun really is unschooling at its finest, thanks for sharing so many different ways it can happen!

teresa said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I don't even know where to start, I love so many things here.
I couldn't agree more about letting them learn the things they're interested in when they are interested. My daughter definitely came in to this life with a curiousity. Reminds me of your little guy.
Okay, the pictures and the faces of your guys!!! So cute.
I love the medeival times projects!!! YOu are the coolest mom ever!!

Tat @ Mum in search said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I have a thing about knives. So many people these days on't let their kids go anywhere near knives until 'they are old enough'. But if I tried to do that with my kids, they'd be in the kitchen and playing with knives in a flash as soon as I turn my back around. As it is, they know there is time when they can cut safely and then there is time when they don't touch knives, and that's ok, because soon they'll get another opportunity.

I haven't quite thought about all the skills that they mention. First aid? Wow! And also 'Even mummy makes mistakes sometimes, and it's ok to make mistakes' (n I can give my latest pizza base attempt as an example here).

Kelly said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

LOVE this post Alicia - so many great ideas here and it gets me so excited for these next few months when Bean will really get to begin doing many of these things! :D

I especially liked what you were doing with history - it reminded me of when I was first learning about my Norwegian heritage as a young teen...I ended up getting super interested in Norwegian recipes and tried all kinds of experiments - it was so much fun!

It's just amazing how many things there are to learn in this one room...

Rose @ NetWorkingWitches said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Anything with vinegar and baking soda is FUN! :)

I absolutely LOVE this post, you are so right. I have allowed my kids to do things that they weren't "old enough" for and felt it was more learning than anything. The level of learning is on a much larger scale than just a recipe.

Terri said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Wow we wrote really similar posts for the carnival - it's great to read about all your life lessons in the kitchen too! Glad to have connected with a fellow culinary unschooler!

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Terri Your post was wonderful and has given me even more ideas! Thank you :)

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Rose @ NetWorkingWitches I tend to feel that kids aren't "old enough" only if we don't show them that we have confidence in their abilities to learn. I tend to try to think about how other cultures, and even our own generations ago, had children doing things that would be considered dangerous now. If those kids survived, why wouldn't ours, nowadays, with a little patient teaching?

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Kelly Thanks, Kelly. I know that you and Bean will have so much fun together while learning. And the best part is that, especially while they're young, they love to help clean up. So messes aren't such a big deal - they learn how to properly wash a floor when the project or recipe is done!

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

@Tat @ Mum in search LOL - I could write and write about all of the things that can be learned in the kitchen. I had to cut myself off here because the post was just getting too long.

And, with knives or any other "dangerous" bit of kitchen equipment: It's only dangerous if used improperly. Just like your kids, mine know when it's OK to use one and when they are not allowed to touch it. I think that if I didn't let them have one, my kids would be just like yours. They're just too curious of those things that are "for big people" that they feel they must be fun.

Isil Simsek said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I love how you include your kids in the kitchen.Gorgours pictures.Thanks for sharing.

Lauren Wayne said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

This is so great! First of all, I love the name of your school. :) So true.

Your science explanations are helping me understand it. :) I need to learn how to explain things like that. Mikko asks us all sorts of questions about that sort of thing (the brown one for sure).

It's so fun to see the ways you've followed your children's lead (even to letting your oldest take a break for awhile). I seriously want to hang out in your kitchen now. I hope you keep posting about this topic!

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Lovely... what a fun way to learn :)

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