Friday, February 26, 2021

Montessori at Home: Work in the Kitchen Can Be Math, Sensorial, Practical Life and Science All at Once

Your Kitchen Can Be Your Learning Hub

This lovely "Fruits and Seeds" printable matches together some of our favorite fruits with their seeds. I created this printable to be a conversation starter with the child. The fruit and the seeds are the beginning and ending of the plant life-cycle. -
(For a free download go to website.)

From Smells and Taste to Botany, Chemistry, and Physics

Outgrown Beginning Practical Life Works?  Level Up!

During this past year, many of us are spending more time at home than in years previous.  You or your spouse may be working from home; your children may be schooling from home; or your normal circuit of volunteering, errands and socializing may be severely curtailed.

Dinner burnt.  Again.  My friend lost her sense of smell recently due to Covid-19 and has burned dinner every night for the past week!  Montessori Sensorial works include the smelling bottles (easy to DIY), and stopping to smell spices, ingredients, and dinner while it cooks can "count" as school, too!

For all of these reasons, plus the fact that your favorite restaurants may be closed, you may be spending more time in the kitchen than ever before.  I know I have!  I am grateful that, unlike some of my friends with Covid-19, I still have a sense of smell (see photo above of my sick friend's burnt casserole) and to still have decent hearing so that I can still hear the oven timer going off, the pot of water boiling and the sizzle of fresh veggies in hot oil.  I'm actually pretty new to cooking on a regular basis so I need to use all of my sense to navigate novel recipes.

If your children are learning to cook alongside you, they'll have lots of opportunities to learn more than the culinary arts in the kitchen.  As mentioned in this previous post, there's lots of math involved in cooking.  Let's consider also the obvious sensorial components to cooking (the sense of smell, taste, and hearing) and higher level concepts, such as botany, chemistry and physics.


All Montessori classrooms include Sensorial materials, which help a child from age 3 and up to classify his sense impressions by noticing similarities and differences.  Exercises such as the Smelling Bottles help fine tune a child's sense of smell; the Color Boxes help the child distinguish between different colors; the Taste Bottles help a child discriminate between different tastes; and so on.  (Sometimes you hear about our eight senses, which include the proprioception, interoception, and vestibular senses.) These works are sometimes called the Keys to the Universe because they help a child make sense of the world he's been absorbing since even before birth!

Next time you are in the kitchen with your child, stop to smell your ingredients together.  Sniff the yogurt to see if it's gone bad.  Or smell the difference between a vine ripe tomato that's room temperature and a grape tomato that's been in the fridge.  Get a whiff of each spice as you measure them out.  Or just enjoy the smell of a cake as it bakes.

It's not hard to imagine using taste as you go.  One example:  if you aren't sure if a white crystals are salt or sugar, taste it. Another:  taste a soup as it cooks to determine if it needs more salt.

What about hearing?  The sizzle in the pan, the buzz of the timer, the rolling boil of the water all can be indicators.  There was even recently a contestant on The Great British Baking Show who claimed he could tell when his cakes were done baking by listening carefully to a slight bubbling!

The sense of touch can indicate if a fruit is ripe, unripe or overripe.  And it can guesstimate whether your water is "warm" for proofing yeast.  Or tell you if your eggs and butter have come to room temperature.  You can even determine whether your pasta is ready by doing the "al dente" test.

Finally, you can use an eagle eye to spot mold on the tortillas, pick out a banana that's just right for baking banana bread, or determining whether the tomatoes you're roasting are just brown enough to begin adding to your soup pot.

You get the idea.  All of these can be part of further training the senses.  It's interesting to note that practicing can really improve your ability to make distinctions.  For instance, I learned that Covid-19 sufferers who have lost their sense of smell can actually regain that sense through Olfactory training.  (There is a second video as well.)  For a demo of how to use the Montessori Smelling Bottles and how to DIY your own, check out At home.  


All Montessori classrooms have a Botany Cabinet (sometimes called a Leaf Cabinet) as part of their Sensorial area.  While the leaf shapes are the main focus, you could easily "branch out" (pun intended!) in other directions.  Just this week I used fresh basil leaves, oregano, thyme and a dry bay leaf while cooking.  A child could identify what sort of leaf shapes spices have, as well as looking up what continent they come from.  Here's some background:  Botany Cabinet.  And here's a resource:  Leaf Shape Chart.

Some veggies, such as parsnips and scallions, are easy to propagate from cuttings.  


"Please pass the NaCl," said no one, ever, at the dinner table.  But you could teach your child the chemical symbol for salt as well as "H2O."  Another chemistry-related topic came up just this week in our fifth-grader's science homework:  when you cook an egg, is the change a chemical one or a physical one?  (Answer:  although there are physical changes, it's considered a chemical change because, once cooked, you cannot change the egg back into its original state.). Carmelization and burning are also chemical changes.  Also, the Maillard reaction (or browning) is easily shown.  

If you save, rinse and dry eggshells for pounding with a mortar and pestle or crushing up by hand, the children can add the calcium carbonate to plants.  If you save scraps and eggshells for composting, look up a little about the chemistry of that.

If the kids really seem to be interested, check out this page!  Or for a lesson plan for a simple experiment of how the taste of a cracker changes in your mouth over time, see this page.


My husband the physicist is constantly nerding out about simple machines in the kitchen.  It turns out there are some good videos about this, relating knives, graters and can openers to these simple machines.  Simple machines in the kitchen in one and here is another. If you really want to delve into this topic, the creator of the first video goes into more detail here.

You might wonder out loud why the baking times for a cake are different if the pan is glass rather than metal (they conduct heat differently) or point out that the boiling water on the stove is evaporating (two states of matter).  Another simple heat demonstration is to show that a wooden trivet under a hot pot protects the dining table or countertop better than, say, a thin sheet of aluminum foil (don't ruin the table or countertop, though!).  

Books for YOU

If you are really getting interested in this topic, there are several good books for adult food geeks out there.  Here are just two:

EDITED TO ADD:  Just for fun, try this---maybe it could even work with a plastic knife that's safe?


  1. Catching up with your blog! I love this post, plenty of ideas.

    I have found that cooking has also helped my oldest who has always been a picky eater and sensitive to taste/feeling. She LOVES to cook and she is more willing to try new foods (recently she found out she actually *does* like meatloaf ;) ).

    1. Oh that's great! It's funny--we only learned yesterday that two of our girls hate it when we make soup and blend it (according to directions) at the end. I guess they prefer it when our soups have recognizable chunks? Or they just don't like the texture of thick soups? Anyway, it feels like parenting is a lot of trial and error!