Cooking Overview

pkp_ck_cb_pizza.jpgCooking is an extremely popular activity and the possibilities for skill development are virtually limitless. It’s also an activity which attracts our handicapped children and in which they can work with great success. Their motivation is high and their rewards are immediate.

Organization of the Unit
In this unit, we have included several formats for cooking projects: group efforts, individual portion recipes, and cooking stations. One or two examples of each format are described in detail with suggestions for other recipes which lend themselves to similar treatment.

Some recipes require careful attention to proportions and order of combining ingredients. In other recipes, the ingredients, proportions, and sequences of steps are quite arbitrary. The emphasis, objectives, and format will differ accordingly.

In selecting cooking projects, try to consider nutrition, taste, and eye appeal, expense, variety and sanitation. Few recipes meet all of these criteria, but our collection is growing. In the bibliography, we have listed some cookbooks we have found useful.

Cooking Without a Kitchen
Many of our “cooking” projects are uncooked. With a two burner hot plate, an electric skillet, and a popcorn popper, many things are possible. A refrigerator is essential, but need not be fancy or expensive. You should be able to find a good, serviceable, used refrigerator for $50-$100, perhaps less. (All prices seem subject to change—always upward—without notice thses days.)

In children centers without kitchens, a modest investment in basic equipment will be returned with interest by providing exciting experiences for children.

Uncooked Snacks
Sanitation can be a problem. Uncooked cooking projects require balancing fussy limitations in tasting, sneezing, coughing, or breathing, with the attendant health hazards to others, against the value of the project as an enjoyable learning experience. For example, fresh fruit cups are nutritious and well received, and the project is rich in potential for language, cognitive, and fine motor skills. But the project may be germ-ridden to a potentially dangerous degree. In these projects we find that putting the cut-up fruit in a colander and rinsing it with boiling water does not impair the flavor, texture, or nutritional value. We aren’t sure the blanching procedure reduces the germ count, but in theory it should help.

Another solution to the sanitation dilemma is the use of individual portions, allowing each child to prepare his/her own snack. The teacher then makes enough for the rest of the class, either ahead of time or during the project by way of demonstrating procedures. Other suggestions are mentioned in the lesson plans, but the final decision must rest on your on-the-spot judgment. Some of those who are participating may have to make the ultimate ethical question, after a cooking project, are we willing to consume the product?

COOKING - An Editorial
By Dorothy Woods

And now comes a plea for more varied and more frequent cooking projects. Cooking experiences for children are valuable for more than the reasons usually listed in textbooks. It is a way of teaching math and some science concepts; certainly a lot of language is involved, and manipulation of various materials is always there. But along with all those goals there are some other reasons I feel so strongly about cooking.

First of all, these projects easily accommodate children of varying skills. The only prerequisites are being able to wait one’s turn (ans this is one skill which even the most resistant child is frequently motivated to learn—the rewards are so obvious!), and waiting until the end to exchange germ (some fudging may occur here!).

Secondly, it is true that cooking could go on at home on a frequent basis, but the truth is that in most cases it doesn’t—for a variety of reasons:

1. Its messy. Very few really fun projects are neat, especially cooking.

2. It requires a certain amount of preparation—possibly a trip to the store—at the very least, getting out all the ingredients. Most of the preparation cannot be done by a preschooler.

3. It has to fit into the parent’s schedule. Invariably my children decide to cook just after I’ve mopped the floor or when I have company coming or I am all set to sit down and indulge myself into something relaxing. The frustrating part is that even if I decide to let the child come first and so rearrange my schedule, many of those times the child looses interest before we are all done and I have to finish by myself AND I STILL HAVE ALL THAT MESS TO CLEAN UP! I know our household is not that unusual

4. It requires an adult, almost always Mother, actively involved. Only if a sibling is considerably older or if there are other adults available can a preschooler cook without adding quite a bit of work to the mother’s day. For a single parent home or where both parents work, this makes the chances even less likely. No matter how highly motivated a child is he really can’t proceed very well on his own.

5. Once the child leaves nursery school he has even fewer opportunities to do cooking on a frequent basis since few schools are able to offer it in any but the most limited ways until seventh grade.

So, it seems appropriate to me to offer cooking fairly regularly. Cooking isn’t anymore work than any other messy project. We have a good set-up for handling the mess. The atmosphere is much friendlier and secure for handling mistakes. No one gets terribly upset over eggs that aren’t cracked properly, and a lot more humor is involved in our projects than is in most homes—and it’s understandable. The child is surrounded by peers making just as many goofs and messes as he is and its very comfortable. And he’s learning something which he’s extremely interested in!

My particular frustration has been that I like recipes to be learning experiences too. I have been trying to collect recipes which allow as much independent activity as possible. Certainly learning goes on in making chocolate cookies and cornbread, but I really prefer projects such as the pizza one in which the teacher introduces the steps and then the kids go to it, spending as much time and effort on each step as they wish. Beside the leisure of going at their own pace, they are also actively involved in pounding the biscuit, in “painting” on catsup, gratings cheese, etc. They are independently achieving something, which gives a wonderfully powerful feeling. And I’m all for feeling powerful! Unfortunately, I do not have a long list of these kind of recipes.

I do also like to have healthy recipes so that the children do not get locked into the idea that snacks are sweet. And I like to introduce new foods into their experiences. But I also like the snacks to be eaten! So, with all these criteria in mind, I have only a few recipes to offer. With everyone looking, though, I have hopes we’ll find something really worth repeating.

Keep in mind your own personality. Don’t make something just to be making it. Cooking is miserable if you aren’t having fun with it. Choose activities that you enjoy—the enjoyment is contagious.