Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Montessori at Home: Practical Life, the Kitchen and Preparing Food

Kitchens invite and unite

Purposeful, repetitive activity with adult supervision

Child and adult have a different pace, cleaning up spills can be "bonus" lesson

By age 4, a child can already do a lot in the kitchen.  Having an apron can help signal the start of important work with Mom or Dad.  

The first Montessori schools were mixed-aged communities of small children in a home-like environment.  Students were given demonstrations in many Practical Life activities, from washing their hands and brushing their hair to washing dishes and polishing shoes.  These "works" had many steps with a logical order to them, and they assisted the students in many ways:  they helped them fit into a community while growing in independence, they helped them become more coordinated and more dexterous, and they formed the foundation for more complex works to come.

The building blocks for Montessori are something I wager everyone reading this already has:  a kitchen (or hotplate with water source, at least); an appetite (probably at least three times per day); and some ingredients, whether they be donations from the food bank, veggies from the garden, staples purchased with your eWIC card, or the groceries you ordered via Instacart.

Especially if you are "stuck at home" these days, find ways to include young children in some part of food prep at your house.  Maybe it's just humble Hamburger Helper, but start somewhere.  I've noticed that, as the kids get older, they are more and more motivated by complicated and especially delicious recipes, so I'll include one example video below.  In the meantime, you might find this article, written by a cookbook author, interesting.  It's about how making a complicated French dessert with her son, who has cerebral palsy, may have helped him develop executive function.

It makes sense to me that, by following a logical, ordered sequence of steps (a "recipe") a child is practicing many skills.  But think of all of the other benefits:  yummy food, the pride of helping make dinner, a family member who will be a little more likely to eat what's served tonight.  And there will be a lot of language exchanged between you and your child while cooking together.  ("Why can't we eat the peel of a banana?")  And problem solving.  ("That measuring spoon is dirty but maybe we can use another?"). 

If there's a spill, all the better!  Stop to clean it up together, or show your child where the supplies are to do so.  Consider it a bonus lesson.

Don't limit yourself to a kids' cookbook or dumbed down recipes.  Yesterday I made a Salmon Corn Chowder from The Honeysuckle Cookbook.  Making it entailed planning ahead (ordering the groceries we needed and checking to see that we had enough of the spices called for); doing the exhausting physical work of peeling, chopping, dicing in the morning while I was fresh; and putting it together late in the day, just in time for dinner.  That kind of "adulting" is an example of the kind of executive function we hope our children will develop one day.  But planning, multitasking, working through frustrations towards a goal and problem solving develop over time and through practice.

While I wouldn't want a small child around sharp knives, there are many alternatives.  Children can peel, and then they can use a crinkle cutter.  You can make some tasks (such as dicing) easier for them by flattening out some veggies (such as carrots) and showing them how crinkle cutting a semi-circle of carrot can be the same as dicing.

Also, if you have many children, none of whom have cooked before, don't try to do this all together.  Begin by taking one child at a time and get a feel for what sort of safety hazards may be a concern for his or her age and personality.  

Check out this video of the steps for this soup.  It's delicious and will last us at least two nights!

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