Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Kitchen is a Perfect Laboratory

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

The Kitchen is a Perfect Laboratory

When my daughter called me and had some questions about how to boil an egg, I thought I had failed in an important area of mothering. Then my other daughter came to visit us in October and requested that I cook our traditional Christmas meal so that she could observe and take detailed notes. Her in-laws were coming for the Thanksgiving feast, and she was terrified.

Of course, I had taken for granted that they had been observing my performance in the kitchen and had learned everything they needed to know over the years. In reflection, I realized that my lessons in the kitchen should have been more deliberate. In many homes, holiday traditions begin in the kitchen. It is a perfect place to teach children from two to twenty about the art and science of cooking.

Just a few of the science topics that can be explored include chemistry, measurement, nutrition, and changing solids into liquids. Other skills include sequencing, safety, reading, working together, and organizing. The history of foods, family stories about recipes, social skills, and sharing with others are also important subjects that can be taught.

Safety is a vital topic to teach children and should include how to keep all of the surfaces sanitary as well as how to use the various culinary tools. Other things like using sturdy stools when reaching for things, cooking on the back burners, plugging in appliances, and turning the pot handles to the back of the stove are important techniques to teach. Just being careful in the kitchen should be emphasized.

So many math skills can be reinforced and taught while cooking. Measuring dry and liquid ingredients, doubling quantities, timing the process, and even shopping for the food provide invaluable opportunities to teach important math skills.

Making candy and using sugar and salt is the time to discuss crystals and how they change in the cooking process. The chemical reactions of baking powder and yeast are demonstrated in making bread. When working with eggs, the proteins change as they are beaten and mixed. Pickling is an ancient technique designed to reduce spoilage using vinegar, which kills bacteria or salt brine, thereby increasing fermentation, which promotes good bacteria.

Seasonings are an interesting study about cultures around the world and how they change the way food is experienced. The way the human nose and taste buds work together to provide the enjoyment of food is a fascinating topic.

So much of who we are and how we became what we are can be traced through our history of food. Most families’ food traditions are a blend several cultures. Gathering around the table is a way of connecting with each other. The sharing and brotherhood that is expressed during a meal can be experienced in few other places. While you are doing your holiday cooking, invite a child to explore the science of it with you.


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