How To Teach Cooking The Montessori Way
Teach your tot to cook like a Montessori kid for greater independence, fine motor skills and fun in the kitchen!
Do you have fond memories of cooking alongside a parent or grandparent as a child?
For many of us, these are some of the most meaningful, coziest childhood memories. Re-creating these memories with your own child can be harder than it looks though. The dinner hour is often rushed, and inviting a child into the mix can make it downright chaotic.
Encouraging your tot to cook alongside you is completely worth it and offers a range of benefits in addition to creating warming memories.
Why cook with your tot?
Cooking and food preparation are actually a big part of Montessori programs, and with good reason. In addition to the actual cooking skills your child is acquiring, there are so many benefits of teaching your child to cook:
While it’s often easier and quicker in the moment to do something for your child, it’s so much more meaningful to show them how to do it themselves. From putting on their own shoes to learning how to sweep up a spill, each skill your child gains helps them to gain independence and confidence in their own capabilities.
Just picture them making you dinner when they’re teenagers if you need a little motivation!
Right along with learning to manage money and read a map, cooking is one of the most important life skills children can acquire. Your child will be so grateful for these skills when they go off to college or get their first apartment.
Involving children in cooking encourages them to expand their palate. Food can seem mysterious, especially if kids can’t identify the individual ingredients. If your child sees, and participates in, the individual steps of composing a meal, it becomes a little less mysterious and a little more approachable.
Perhaps the most motivating factor of all, cooking together can be such a bonding experience. For the same reason it makes a fun date night, cooking alongside your child can help you feel closer. It gives you a chance to work together toward a common goal.
Tips from the Montessori classroom
So where do you begin? If you’re not accustomed to cooking with your child, it can seem overwhelming. The mess, the chaos, the sheer amount of time it takes can all be discouraging.
Here are some tips, straight from the Montessori classroom, to help get you started:
Experiment with timing
For many children, morning is when they’re at their best. They’re the most calm and focused, before they begin to get tired or overstimulated from the events of the day.
Fast forward to the hour before dinner, commonly known as the “witching hour,” and many children struggle. It can be a challenging time of day, so it’s not too surprising that introducing new skills at this time doesn’t always go well.
Try cooking together in the morning instead. Saturday mornings are a great time to introduce cooking skills. You’re generally not rushed, which is key, and your child is fresh and ready to learn something new.
Build skills gradually
Something Montessori does really well is introduce one small skill at a time before layering the skills together for something more complex.
You can use this same strategy at home. Start with basic skills like washing produce, stirring batter, measuring ingredients, using a can opener and safely chopping. After your child masters each skill, they can begin to combine skills for more complicated cooking projects.
Make sure to include clean-up in the skills you demonstrate. Encourage your child to help wash the dishes (the toddler tower is great for this!), to sweep a mess with a little hand broom and to wipe a spill with a small sponge.
Choose simple recipes
If you choose a complex or precise recipe, you’re bound to hover over your child, anxious that they’ll spill an ingredient while stirring or that they won’t evenly chop the carrots.
Choose very simple recipes to start. Making a salad is actually great for young children, because even the youngest toddlers can help tear the lettuce or dump in seeds or dried fruit.
As your child gains more experience in the kitchen, they’ll be able to tackle increasingly complex recipes, and may even create recipes of their own!
Useful kids’ cooking tools
Having the proper tools makes cooking safer and more fun.
If you plan to make cooking with your tot a regular thing, it’s definitely worth it to invest in quality cooking tools. Here are a few of the most useful:
- Toddler Tower: This is something kids will use for years. It provides an extremely stable surface so that kids can safely focus on building their skills, rather than on balancing on a precarious step stool.
- Apron: Aprons are used in Montessori to signify the beginning and end of a cooking project. If your child tends to wander off in the middle of cooking, try using an apron to mark the beginning and end of the task. When they’re done, they need to put their apron away, marking the end of the activity.
- Wavy chopper & small cutting board: A wavy chopper lets toddlers safely chop fruits and veggies (with supervision). Older kids can use a child-safe knife.
- Nonslip mixing bowl: You can find special mixing bowls for kids that are not only smaller, but also have a nonslip base, making it easier to stir without spilling.
- Small wooden spoon & whisk: If you love to bake with your tot, a child-size wooden spoon and whisk are incredibly handy and fun to use.
- Specialty tools: There are so many tools you can add to your collection over time! Cherry pitters, egg slicers, child-sized peelers, apple slicers, citrus juicers and spice grinders are all purposeful and perfect for small hands. They make great stocking stuffers, too!