Math in the Kitchen

Cooking is a practical and hands-on way to help children learn many important life skills. It not only supports your child’s self confidence and coordination, but also supports their mathematical development. Encourage your child to wonder, explore, create, and have fun in the kitchen alongside you. 

Tips for cooking with children:

  • When cooking with children set up a cooking space that encourages their success. Allow plenty of time and work in an area that is easy to clean.

  • Read over all ingredients and instructions before starting. Be prepared and pull out all ingredients and supplies before beginning to cook.

  • Start with a simple recipe and introduce only one new skill or concept at a time.

  • Let children cook a single portion of the recipe themselves. Review the instructions together and ask your child if they have any questions before starting.

  • Follow recipe instructions in order and complete each step before moving on.

  • Repeat recipes, this gives children a chance to master techniques and become comfortable using kitchen equipment.

  • When using measuring cups, use a popsicle stick or a chopstick to level off the flour or other dry ingredients.

  • When using measuring spoons and cups, fill a separate bowl with the liquid or dry ingredient that needs to be measured. This makes it easier and potentially less messy when measuring the desired amount.

    • For example, place flour in a large bowl. Scooping flour from a bowl is easier than pouring flour from the flour sack and gives children room to work. Using a bowl is convenient for catching excess flour when leveling the measuring cup. 

  • Use a pitcher when measuring liquids. Pour the liquid in a pitcher that your child can easily hold and pour. Place the measuring cup on a rimmed cookie sheet and allow your child to pour the liquid from the pitcher into the measuring cup. To help your child stop at the desired amount, use a piece of colored tape to indicate where to stop. 

  • Discuss safety with your child. Talk about how to use a knife. Talk about how the stovetop and oven get hot and require extra care to avoid burns. Talk about where and how to touch hot pots, pans, and trays. 

  • Keep handles toward the back of the stovetop or out of reach from your child. 

  • Use cutting boards so your child has their own cutting and work surface. 

Supporting Young Chefs:

  • Involve your child in the preparation of a meal. Ask your child what they would like to make for dinner, write up a grocery list together, and shop for meal ingredients together. Ask your child to help you find ingredients at the store, count out the quantities of fruits and vegetables needed, and estimate how much the total bill will be at the check out stand. 

  • Ask your child how they would like to help. Find out what interests them in the kitchen. 

  • Explore cooking tools in non-cooking opportunities or situations.

    • Water-play: Use pitchers, ladles, whisks, bowls, and kitchen measuring tools while playing with water. These items can be used during bath time or outside with a bucket of water. Children can practice using the measuring tools, stirring the water in a bowl, and using the ladle to get the liquid from one bowl to the next. 

    • Play-doh and clay: Children can use a plastic knife, a fork, a garlic press, a cookie cutter, a pizza cutter, and other tools while playing with play-doh and clay. 

    • Dramatic play: Pretend to be chefs together with play kitchen supplies. Have your child be the main chef and you follow along.

    • Read books related to cooking. Pretend Soup, Salad People, Honest Pretzels are some excellent children’s cookbooks. Books like Soup Day, Pizza Day, and Bee-bim Bop all feature stories with a cooking theme and a recipe to make. 

    • Make up a family cooking song - music and movement are fun ways to celebrate cooking. Come up with some dance moves to celebrate your favorite food!

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Ways to Include your Child in Kitchen Routines:

  • Teach your child how to read a recipe and ask them to find all the measuring tools they will need to use. As they get more comfortable talk about how to “double” or “halve” a recipe.

  • Encourage your child to measure the ingredients and add them to a bowl.

  • Encourage your child to count out how many plates and cups they need to set the table.

  • Help your child set the timer and show them how it counts down.

  • Practice using and reading a thermometer.

  • Share a snack together. Ask your child to divide it into half, thirds, or fourths.

  • Ask your child to grab the right number of eggs out of the carton.

  • Ask your child to mix the batter 15 times and count with them as they do it.

  • Set the oven to the right temperature together. Talk about what “degrees” mean.

  • Brainstorm together, to figure out how many pieces of bread will be needed to make three sandwiches for lunch.

  • Encourage your child to estimate how many pancakes or muffins a batter will make.

  • Practice organizing and sorting when putting away groceries. Ask your child to help you unload bags, separating cold items from items that don't need refrigeration, items that are stored in a kitchen from items that are not.

  • Ask your child to separate utensils by type when unloading the dishwasher or dish rack.

  • Shape cookie dough into numbers to create an edible number line. Ask your child to top each number cookie with the corresponding number of goodies, for example, four raisins on top of the number four.

Starting Math Conversations in the Kitchen:

  • Help me double the pancake recipe. The original calls for two eggs. How many eggs would I need to make twice as many pancakes?

  • How many pancakes do we need to make if everyone in our family eats three pancakes each?

  • How can I cut this pizza into eight equal pieces?

  • We have six carrots and three people. How many carrots do we each get?

  • How many pieces of cereal do you think fit on your spoon at once? Let’s find out!

  • How many crackers fill one cup? Let's find out!

  • Do you have more raisins or apple slices in your cup? How many more?

  • Guess how many broccoli pieces are on your plate. Let’s count and see if you are right!

  • Which size container would best fit these leftovers?

  • Can you find the lids that match these containers (or pots)?

  • Can you put these stacking bowls (or measuring cups) back together so they fit inside of each other?

  • What shapes do you see in the kitchen? What shapes do you see at the table? What shapes do you see on your plate?

  • Estimate how many items you think are in this grocery bag. Count and find out how close you were.

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