Scrub-a-dub-dub! Freestyle uses a vegetable brush to scrub sweet potatoes.
Food preparation is a Practical Life exercise in Montessori. Food prep is an essential life skill and one that kids can begin practicing as young as 13 months (as Freestyle is in the photo above).
There are so many benefits of involving toddlers in the kitchen, including:
~ The practice of fine motor skills.
~ A Sensorial experience- Seeing a variety of whole foods, feeling the different textures of the food, smelling both the fresh, raw ingredients as well as the cooking smells, listening to cooking sounds, and, of course, tasting the finished meal!
~ Math concepts-Mostly counting for now! Freestyle loves to “count.” Though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t really get what I’m saying- she just knows that after I point/put down the item/climb a stair I say something afterwards. So I will count, “1, 2, 3…” whereas Free will say, “Dee, doh, de…” in the same tone as me. It’s very cute!).
~ Involving them in family work by making a real contribution- And we know how much kids like to do what the grown ups are doing!
~ What I’ve once heard described as “Food Literacy”– Making meals from scratch allows kids to see how the final product (the meal) comes to be.
Cooking is also a great time for the Sensorial Explorer (Dr. Maria Montessori’s term for children ages 0 – 6 years) to learn about new and different food items. Maria Montessori believed in grounding children in reality because their brains are still developing and processing the world around them (this relates to some people’s confusion that “Montessori doesn’t believe/encourage imagination”- something I’ll write about another time).
Basically, it is preferable that a child is first introduced to the concept of an “apple” by being shown a real apple rather than a picture of an apple, so that their brain can order the most accurate information (that this round, hard, red object that smells and tastes sweet and crisp is an “apple”) in their mind for future reference.
If she’s interested (and not playing in the living room while I cook), I will show her the different stages. For example, if I’m making a quiche, I’ll show her all the raw ingredients (mushrooms, broccoli, cheese, onions) before and after they’ve been chopped up. Then I’ll show her the quiche mixture before it goes into the oven. While it’s in the oven, I’ll point to it and say that it’s “hot hot” and cooking right now. When it’s done, she’ll look at (and taste) it too.
Here are some things that Freestyle (18 months) has done to help with meal prep:
~ Scrub potatoes. I rinse the potatoes and put them in a big bowl with an inch of water. I showed her how to hold it in one hand and use the vegetable brush to firmly scrub the surface. Of course, I give the potatoes a second scrub as well!
~ Rip kale to make kale chips. After I washed and dried the kale, I put them into a bowl. I put a second bowl beside it and showed Freestyle how to rip them into pieces and put the pieces into the second bowl. They are so delicious and pretty darn healthy, but not toddler-friendly unfortunately.
~ Pour! I’ll measure out the amount into a cup and let her pour it into the bowl.
~ Stir! If it’s not the safest thing to stir (i.e. hot soup on the stove), I’ll just give her a bowl and wooden spoon so she can stir away on her own. Freestyle stirred with such vigor yesterday that the spoon chipped!
~ Peel! After watching me peel clementines, eggs, and bananas (this one is new), Freestyle was very eager to do it herself. In fact, she quite firmly insists on doing it herself now! I won’t forget the first time she grabbed a clementine from the fridge and a small bowl from her cupboard, sat herself down at her table, and then began peeling away, putting the bits of peel into the bowl! She definitely gets that from her father.
There are so many things that I want to introduce to Freestyle in the next few weeks. The next thing I’ll show her is cutting a banana into thirds, I believe. I’ll try to take pictures (though right now I can’t because I’ve left my camera at a friend’s house).
Note: Of course, she is a busy toddler, and all the above is not always possible! There are many times when just being able to finish making dinner on time is a miracle in itself, what with Free dragging me off to read a book or to play or wanting to hold her! But, you do what you can and have to accept and be happy with it, right? That’s what I tell myself anyway!