When I first started homeschooling my children, well-meaning friends and family would panic when I explained that my approach to math involved cookies. Cookies? Oh yes indeed! Cookies played a huge part in our early-elementary math curriculum. Have you ever realized just how much math you actually use in the kitchen?
Before you accuse me of losing my mind, let me explain. What better way to teach a drab subject than to have FUN? (And eat cookies!) How can one teach math in the kitchen? From the toddler stage all the way up through high school, this real-life math can both teach the basics and provide a tasty reward for your efforts.
Toddlers and young children love to help. This is a great time to get started with counting, following directions, and some great "Mommy and Me" time. Sit your little one on the counter and give him the measuring cup after you have filled it with whatever the next ingredient is. Does your recipe call for two eggs? Break each egg into a small cup and let her pour it into the bowl, counting both times. Do you need two cups of flour? Try using a half-cup measuring cup and let him count to four as he pours the flour into the bowl. When they are ready to count higher numbers, see how many chocolate chips are in a cup. After the dough is mixed, let her count the cookies that you have put on the cookie sheet.
When the time comes to start teaching addition and subtraction, you can throw in questions like, "If I put in two cups of flour, and you put in two cups of flour, how many cups of flour are in the bowl?" Or "This recipe calls for four cups of flour. I have six cups of flour in my canister. How many cups will I have left after we make these cookies?"
Once your child progresses to multiplication and fractions, things can really get exciting! Try doubling your recipe. This can be as simple as just asking "What is four cups of flour times two?", or you can make it more difficult by having your child multiply fractions. "This recipe calls for 2/3 cup of sugar. How much sugar do we need for a double batch?" Conversely, you can try to cut your recipe in half for division.
Of course, don't forget to teach units of measurement. If you are using the half-cup trick to get four "cups" of flour rather than just two, have your child discover that two of the "cups" you've been using make one cup. This is fun with flour or water. Let your child experiment with measuring cups and spoons to discover how many of each goes into the next.
As your children get into higher levels of math, you can start bringing in other aspects of cooking. Have your child help determine how many cookies are needed. Then they can calculate how much they will need to purchase of each ingredient. Take them to the grocery store and let them do price comparisons. Which brand has the best deal? Have your child figure out how much tax you will be paying on your grocery bill before you get to the check-out. As you sit down to enjoy your nice warm cookies, have your child calculate the cost for each cookie.
Of course, you don't have to bake cookies. Those are just our family favorite. Pull your child into the kitchen and let them help you cook dinner. Who said "school" had to happen between the hours of 8:00 and 4:00? Math happens at all hours. What better way to show how fun math can be than by spending some time in the kitchen together, where your child can reap the benefits of their labor!
Kristina Duckett lives in Alaska and has been teaching math in the kitchen for six years. She sells their favorite "math experiments" through her online bakery, Little Slice of Heaven.
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