Picture this: you’re stuck inside with your children on a rainy Saturday. It’s a snowy day in January, or perhaps a scorching hot day in July. You’ve made crafts, played games, and watched a movie.
What’s left? Well, you do have to cook dinner.
You might hesitate at the idea of spending time in the kitchen with kids, but it’s an activity well worth consideration. Cooking with your children can help them build critical thinking skills that will prepare them for school and beyond.
Here are a few ways cooking can help build critical thinking skills:
Encourage all five senses
Although observation is one of the more basic critical thinking skills, it’s a prerequisite for any of the higher-level skills. Think of critical thinking as a ladder. You can’t step up to one of the highest rungs until you scale the lower rungs.
Luckily, observation is a skill most children are quick to grasp, and one that is easy to build in the kitchen. A quick way to encourage your child to practice observation in the kitchen is to ask them to use as many senses as possible to verbalize what they observe.
Do they smell fresh baked cookies? Do they see bright red tomatoes? Do they feel rough potatoes? Do they hear popcorn popping? And best of all, what do they taste? Encourage your children to use as many descriptive words as possible when telling you what they notice in the kitchen or comparing similarities and differences.
Introduce problem-solving as you cook
Once your child is comfortable observing and expressing what he or she sees in the kitchen, it’s time to move up a rung on the ladder. Now you can ask your child to apply their observations.
This is a good time to introduce problem-solving, like substituting one ingredient for another. You may pretend that you are out of an ingredient and ask your child what might work in its place, or prepare a familiar recipe in a new way. Depending on your child’s age, you may want to throw in some number sense. For example, have them consider three teaspoons of sugar next to one tablespoon of sugar. Can they determine which is more, or are they able to figure out that they are one and the same?
These practices help children problem solve and apply their basic knowledge of food and cooking.
Inspire new dishes
Once your child has practiced observing and applying, they can give synthesis a try. Synthesizing is just putting elements together in a way that works. What better place to do this than in the kitchen?
A fun activity you can do with your child is to present them with a number of ingredients and ask them to think of ways to put them together in one dish. A fun TV show to watch for inspiration on this skill is Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship. In this show, kids compete for the title of Kids Baking Champion through a series of challenges, always with a twist ingredient that they have to incorporate into their dishes. You may choose to watch an episode with your children and then challenge them to try a similar dish on their own.
Practice prediction and evaluation
Evaluating is commonly known as one of the most complex critical thinking skills and one that your child will certainly need to use in both academic settings and the modern workplace.
Evaluation can be used alongside prediction (another valuable critical thinking skill) when planning a meal. When thinking of a dish to prepare, ask your children which ingredients they think will go best in the dish. When making waffles, you could predict whether chocolate chips or blueberries would go best with maple syrup. Try one of each; afterward, evaluate which one you prefer. Don’t just say which one, though: make sure your child is able to give evidence for his or her opinion to back it up. Although this seems simple, this is helping your children gain the valuable skill of supporting an opinion with evidence.
How do you help your child learn in the kitchen?
When you’re out of ideas for entertaining your children on an indoors day, look no further than the kitchen! While fun and definitely tasty, cooking with your child help build important critical thinking skills like observing, synthesizing, and evaluating.
What are your favorite ways to integrate learning into the kitchen?