Effects of learning to cook


Here are a few examples of a 5 year old child’s learning in 3 years of learning to cook. These demonstrations of learning are taken from her experience of preparing “apple kesaribath”, a South-Indian semolina pudding sweetened with apples.

  • She has learnt several topics of mathematics while measuring out ingredients – including basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction and multiplication for now), fractions, ratios. For this recipe, we needed 1/4 cup of semolina (rava) and double that quantity of water. She was able to accurately measure out a quarter cup of semolina, and then calculated that double of quarter cup would be half a cup. This demonstrates an understanding of multiplication.
  • She has demonstrated the spirit of scientific inquiry, through observation of reactions between different ingredients and application of different processes to ingredient. For example: what happens when heat (a process) is applied to applies (an ingredient, a fruit)? She observed that the apples turned from crispy to soft, became stickier, and changed in color from pale yellow to light brown. She observed that cooking apples caused steam, despite not adding water to the pot, and was curious to know why. She asked questions about these reactions, and learnt that apples contain juice (which upon heating produced steam) and sugar (which upon heating caused caramelizing that made the apples turn light brown).
  • While preparing this recipe, traditionally served along with a spicy semolina porridge called “upma” or “uppittu” in small street-side cafes called “Darshinis” in Bangalore, Karnataka, she demonstrated a desire to understand culture, asking us to tell us the story of the dish, where the dish comes from, and how to eat it.

These are just a few examples of how cooking integrates education across disciplines, in a manner that makes learning natural, engaging and integrated into real life!

A recipe book for kids

I have an idea.

One of the constants during the pandemic has been food. Food has brought us comfort, joy, satisfaction, learning and more. When the weather has seemed gloomy, we fry pakodas, seating Ananya on the kitchen counter to gobble ’em up while they’re hot and crispy. When we need something to chew our brains on, we prepare a feast from a new cuisine, such as the middle-eastern feast we made, complete with home-made falafel, hummus, pita & muhamarra. When we need a dose of adventure, we spend the day making all the elements of a dish from scratch, such as pav bhaaji, filling our home with the aromas of freshly roasted spices and home-made bread. Ananya has loved this journey, eagerly awaiting dinner-time each night and learning to measure out ingredients for pav, roll out papdis for dahi papdi chaat and assembling her chaats just the way she likes.

The impact of this learning experience on Ananya has hit me a number of times. When I snagged a beautiful fresh baguette to make bruschetta, she asked me “which country is a baguette from?” I was also amazed when she casually mentioned to me learning about a “bibimbap” (a Korean rice bowl) from one of her books. I was once again in awe what a sponge for learning children are.

One of the roadblocks I’ve had on this journey is the sheer lack of good cookbooks for children that suit our tastebuds. I should mention here that both my daughter and I are those oddballs that can’t handle sweets- we do enjoy the occasional dessert, but love our savory food. We’re also vegetarians, and love trying ethnic food from everywhere- from close to home to around the world. But when I searched for cookbooks for kids, I frequently found dessert-themed books, or books with savory dishes that weren’t vegetarian, or good ethnic cookbooks that had great food but just weren’t accessible in language to a child.

This got me thinking. What if there were a cookbook that ticked all these boxes? A vegetarian, savory food cookbook written for kids. A cookbook full of colors and beautiful visuals. A cookbook that tells a story about each dish, the history and how the dish came to be. A cookbook that teaches children the science behind the food. Did I mention, a cookbook designed just FOR KIDS?

So this was my idea. This is the concept. To plan properly, it needs a series of recipes, stories behind the recipes, steps that children can accomplish independently and guidance on when they require adult assistance. Clear, concise, comprehensible instructions.

What do you think? Would you, or your child, love this?

Homeschooling Day 2: Forays into Science


We could feel the isolation slowly becoming the norm today. Of course, I do anticipate days coming up where we get frustrated. However, today felt strangely peaceful. With the lockdown effective starting today, the situation felt oddly stable at least for the next few hours, a feeling we hadn’t felt in several days.

A started off her day with what felt familiar to her – working on language and math, as she would in school. I was very proud of her for independently doing her work as she would in school, asking for help where she needed it.

After lunch and some downtime, we decided to work on something new – Science! Now, A is a preschooler due to start kindergarten in the fall, and while they do a lot of experiments and learn a lot of life skills in school and otherwise, she hadn’t yet come across the word “Science”. A little background about A and Science – while she didn’t know the word Science, she has been performing science experiments and scientific activities for years now, such as:

  1. Baking chocolate chip cookies – she has been baking with me for years, which is a great lesson in chemistry.
  2. Star-gazing on clear nights – she loves looking for Venus and Mars on a clear night, and isn’t this astronomy at its best?
  3. Nature hikes – observing birds, learning about different flora and fauna, these are perfect examples of zoology and botany!

Today, we started formalizing her science education, by building her science vocabulary. The words we learnt today were:

  • Science – the study of the world around us!
  • Experiment – an activity used to answer a question.
    A couple of days ago, she asked me “What are bones?” and “What would happen if our body had no bones?” In order to explain better to her, we performed a simple experiment of filling a plastic bag with a marker and propping the bag up to stand. From this experiment, she learnt that “without bones, we will not be able to stand!” (her words!). Today, we recollected the activity with the plastic bag and marker and I explained to her that that was an experiment!
  • Data – the information we learn from the experiment.
    In the experiment about bones, the data she gained was that without bones, we cannot stand up.
  • Observe – use our senses to notice things.
    We went through our five senses and discussed smell, see, touch, hear and taste. We used simple objects around the room and A told me what she observed about each of them – how the eraser felt, how the water bottle sounded when she shook it, and how the marker looked.
  • Predict – say what we think will happen.
    We made predictions about the world around us, such as predicting what would happen when it gets cloudy outside, or what would happen when we mix yellow and blue.
  • Compare – observe what is same and different about two objects.
    We took two objects – a blue crayon and a yellow marker, and observed what is same and different about each of them.
    

These were all relatively new words for intuitive concepts for A. We spent the rest of the evening working on our science vocabulary by including them in our conversation, such as using our senses to make observations about the food we prepared for dinner. We are looking forward to asking a lot of questions, and developing and performing science experiments to get answers!

Homeschool Day 1 – plans vs. reality

Let me preface by stating that today would be our second day of isolation. This means, no playdates, no meeting anyone outside of home unless absolutely necessary (such as a grocery store visit) and following all precautions even if we do step out.

The day started off well. We managed to stick to our schedule for the most part. I was very proud of A for grabbing her workbook and working independently at the same time that she would when in school. The morning went smoothly, with us sticking to the general plan with minor delays/alterations. In addition to the math worksheets, A chose to draw and make stories today, an activity full of whimsy as she dreamt of squirrels and kids playing in the forest.

This afternoon, our county along with other counties in the Bay Area announced a complete lockdown. This means, all 6.7 million residents of the Bay Area are ordered not to leave home except for food and medical reasons for the next 3 weeks. This is a difficult and crucial step in order to contain the spread of the virus. While that debate belongs on a different platform, it did derail our afternoon education plan. Anyway, more tomorrow!






Homeschooling Day 1

Today will mark day 1 of homeschooling.We’re hopeful, dare I say ambitious? 

Here is the schedule we have put together for ourselves: 

Time

Ananya’s Activity

8:00-9:00

Breakfast

9:00-10:00

Call grandparents / Read

10:00-10:30

Shower, pooja

10:30-11:00

Writing activities – workbook – alternate between Language and Math

11:00-12:00

Learning activities – alternate between Science and Arts

12:00-1:00

Lunch

1:00-2:00

TV

2:00-4:00

Reading / Playtime

4:00-4:30

Milk / Snack

4:30 – 6:15

Outdoor time (if weather permits) OR Game time OR Exploration time (music/dash dot/ pick a topic)

6:15-7:00

Dinner

7:00-7:30

Call grandparents

7:30-8:15

Reading

So this is our ambitious timetable. As the week unfolds, it will be interesting to see how much of the schedule is replaced with screen-time. However, my daughter is great at self-regulating and doesn’t do well with a lot of screen-time. The thing she is truly going to miss is playing with her friends, but right now it’s all about the bigger picture. She’s been a champ at understanding the impact of coronavirus and COVID-19. She’s read through / watched clips including this one from Washington Post, and the episode “How do people catch a cold?” from Storybots. More on this in another post. 

Some notes on my homeschooling philosophy/curriculum: 

  1. I shall ensure my teachings align with Common Core and NGSS as applicable, and continue to work on developing A’s critical thinking abilities. 
  2. I intend to follow an integrated approach to her learning. This means that I will try to develop simple projects and activities to do at home which will guide her learning in Math, Language and Science. In this regard, cooking and baking remains a favorite especially considering we are confined to home, but we’ll see what else we can come up with. 
  3. My biggest challenge so far is possibly incorporating a Montessori approach to her Math lessons. 

Signing off for now. Wish us luck!

The times we live in!

As I open this blog (yes I know it’s been years!) I’m overcome with a feeling of writing a diary. A diary cataloging our experiences during the interesting times we live in. I mean, the first thing I want to say is that it’s 2020, and Planet Earth has been overcome by a pandemic known as COVID-19! While this sounds like the opening lines of a post-apocalyptic thriller, this is just our life as we now know it.

Well, enough of the drama and on to reality. My daughter A, now past the 4.5 age mark, is at home for the foreseeable future. Since the last time I posted here, she has grown to be a friendly, kind, social girl who loves going to school to learn and play with her friends. On Friday, 2 days ago, her school made the decision to remain open through the pandemic, while requesting parents who could manage childcare to support them by keeping their children home. So, tomorrow will mark Day 1 of homeschooling. The libraries and community centers have shutdown as well, and with several days of rain forecast, we’re going to have to get very creative very quickly with my homeschooling efforts.

In addition, our family has started practicing social distancing. In recent days, we slowly but surely cut back social interactions. Today marked the first day of many spent in complete isolation, with just me, A and her dad. To get some fresh air and movement, we chose to go to a park for a walk, and were amazed, and perhaps even a little spooked by how empty the place was. In hindsight, however, I am glad to see how ghost town-life places were; it leads me to believe that more and more people are practicing social distancing as well.

In the following days, I’ll be using this space to chronicle our days of isolation. I’ll share some resources that help us, lessons I’m doing with my daughter, activities, games, routines, you name it, I’ll try and document it. I’d also love to her from all of you, as to what you’re doing with your kids.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones, be mindful of the times we live in and enjoy your time with your family!

On the Montessori Method and why it is my preferred educational philosophy…

A couple of years ago, when I started looking around at schools for my daughter, I was overwhelmed with the options. Should we look at an home daycare vs. a center? What kind of educational method was I looking for? What should the learning focus be on? I read about the Montessori method, Reggio Emilia approach, Waldorf education, and more. Superficial research told me that Montessori was a popular choice. Not to be convinced by a popularity vote, I delved further into my research and tried to work out why Montessori was so popular.

The first thing that I understood, and a very important point that I believe every parent should comprehend prior to enrolling their child in a Montessori school, is that Montessori is a philosophy, not a curriculum. Before proceeding, I had to learn all I could about Montessori and decide whether I believe in the philosophy or not. I could not put my daughter in a school unless I believed in their practices. So, let me explain to you what I learnt, why I believe, and then you can decide for yourself whether this is something you believe in too.

The Montessori method was definitely the oldest method of all that I had researched. It was developed by Maria Montessori over a 100 years ago. It has been tried and tested all over the world with a lot of success. In fact, Maria Montessori’s methods were verified more than a 100 years later through new techniques in brain research and MRIs with young children! A lot of the other methods I saw were newer with comparatively less field studies, and I wanted to go with a more tried and tested approach.

More importantly, Montessori follows a constructivist approach to learning. This means that students are actively involved in the process of building knowledge and learning, as opposed to passively receiving information. For example, lecture-based instruction is a passive form of learning. Now, think from a child’s perspective. Would a child below the age of 5 prefer to be active, using their hands and moving, or passive, being asked to sit in one place for extended periods of time and listen? I know my child would prefer the former, and I can imagine most children preferring the former too. I have believed in a constructivist approach for many years and worked on incorporating more forms of active learning at all levels, so it was obvious that I would want my bouncy, happy toddler to learn in a constructivist manner too. Children should be allowed to participate in their learning, and not be chastised for it. Montessori ticked that box.

Not only do children participate in how they learn, but they also, to an extent, choose what they learn. In a typical Montessori setup, students choose their activities from a prescribed range. This encourages a child to direct their own learning. By doing so, we ensure that the child is more engaged with his / her learning. Making such choices also improves their decision making skills at an early age!

I was also impressed with how activities were setup in the Montessori way. I learnt from A’s teachers that in Montessori terminology, activities are called “jobs”. A “job” consists of everything required to complete an activity from start (including selection and set-up) to finish (including cleanup). The jobs are setup in small trays or bins, and placed at a child’s height level. For example, when my daughter was in the “toddler room” one of the jobs was to pour water from one small beaker to another. This job, obviously, involves some spills and messes when performed by a 2 year old. The tray also had a small cloth, and children learnt to clean up their own spills! This ensured that children learnt complete ownership in all their activities, and also developed discipline to keep their surroundings clean.

This sense of ownership and discipline prevails in all things Montessori. Montessori rooms are designed for children – safe spaces, items placed at convenient heights, enabling children to be independent and allowing them to explore without restrictions. With this, children also develop a sense of responsibility such as cleaning up after themselves and organization.

It has been a year since my daughter started her Montessori education, and I have found a sea change. I have also found that for Montessori to be as effective as possible, one needs to comprehend that Montessori is a philosophy and not a curriculum, believe in it, and implement it outside of school as well. In the past year, we have worked on incorporating many Montessori practices in our day-to-day life and found that it has made it a world of difference. In a series of posts, I will be describing the ways in which we have started leading a Montessori life. Stay tuned for more!

 

 

 

First pizza!

Recently, I had a breakthrough. A ate her first pizza! Now, you might wonder why this is such a big deal. Why would I want my kid to eat “junk food”? Well, as I’ve mentioned time and again, A is a picky eater. She eats a handful of dishes prepared in exactly a certain way, often force-fed with bribes. Combined with our love for travel, it gets inconvenient with lugging around a rice cooker and ingredients everywhere.

I’ve come to realize that pizza is common denominator food, available world-wide, and isn’t as unhealthy as we think when we have control over the ingredients (from trust-worthy sources and home-made as far as possible).  A has taken an interest in cooking and baking recently, and I’ve taken advantage of this by encouraging her to participate in preparing dinner and have her eat the same food as the rest of the family, with no screens or bribes. I fight my motherly instincts to make her eat more everyday! We follow a Montessori philosophy at home (more on this in a future post) and she uses a ladder to reach the kitchen counter and participate in the daily cooking, an activity she loves. This has been a worthwhile effort.

I’ve also observed that she has a love for strong bold flavors. For example, she will always choose a pesto pasta over a mac ‘n’ cheese. So I decided to have her make her own pizza, choosing her own toppings. First, I asked her what she would like on her pizza, showing her a few options. She made a face and rejected the more traditional option of marinara. No worries, I asked her if she would like a pesto pizza. While she was suspicious (“Do you mean pesto pasta or pesto pizza?”) she did agree that she would like to make a “pesto pizza with cheese”. Brilliant! Step 1 had been accomplished – that was further along than we’d ever gotten with pizza before. And I ensured that she was involved with every step that followed.

Next, we had to buy ingredients. Trader Joe’s is a family favorite, where we all love shopping for our treats, in a trust-worthy, vegetarian-friendly environment. I asked her to please help me shop for ingredients. Since we were in a hurry that day, we chose to buy our ingredients rather than make the pesto at home, but that worked out very well as she loved looking around and finding the pesto and cheese off the shelves.

Finally, it was time to go home and make the pizza! By now, the excitement had amped up and she was extremely excited to make her own pizza. This turned out to be one of the easiest cooking experiments I had ever done with her. Other than getting the pizza in and out of the oven, she could do everything herself. She patted and rolled the dough into a circle, eagerly “painted” the pesto on the base, and got a kick out of heaping on cheese on the pizza (of course with chef’s treats of bits of cheese to snack on!) She watched eagerly through the oven door as her pizza baked. When the pizza was done, she bounced between her feet while we sliced it for her. She was so proud of it! And, best of all, she ate  satisfactory amount of it!

It just goes to show that kids are way more capable than what we give them credit for. In fact, other than a light dusting of flour on the counter, the entire activity proved to be mess-free with A developing a sense of cleanliness and order as well.

Baking / Cooking: A well-rounded learning activity!

Food has always been a big issue with my toddler. For as long as I can remember, mealtime has been a lottery, not knowing whether she would eat or not. I tried a variety of flavors, offered them in colorful utensils, even made her rotis in fun shapes and colors – nothing worked. One day, instead of giving her toy utensils and water to play with, I decided to give her idly* batter and an idly mold and asked her to pour the batter into the mold. While we had a small mess on our hands, we achieved two things with this exercise: we had a great activity to develop fine motor skills, and of course, the child was so proud that she had helped to make the food that she couldn’t resist eating it!

Since then, I’ve loved having her stand on a ladder and assist while I cook. The rule I have set is that she isn’t allowed near heat (stove, oven) or knives but other than that, she’s good to go! She loves adding ingredients like salt/sugar/flour, stirring, mixing, pouring things and more. We often spend the afternoons baking cookies together, which is a great activity for a toddler as she can do everything except get the baking tray in and out of the oven. I usually measure out ingredients into small bowls and give her the ingredients and a large mixing bowl, and she loves it! In keeping up with the “I did it!” goal, she is very proud to share her creations with her family and friends!

I decided to take the activity one step further. Instead of measuring out ingredients and leaving them out for her, I decided to take a simple recipe and convert it to a form that she could read. While A can read simple words and count, obviously she  can’t do fractions like “1 1/2 cup” or understand the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. Instead of using a standard one cup measure, I used a quarter cup measure which would be easy for her small hands to handle. Instead of using the words teaspoon and tablespoon, I used a set of colorful measuring spoons I had and the recipe called for “1 green spoon” and so on. This way, she had only one variable to deal with – the number of spoons /cups to add, and identifying a spoon / cup by their color was definitely a simpler task than identifying them by their measure!

This sounds really confusing, but it was actually very simple. Here’s a sample recipe that I converted. We decided to try cheese muffins today, as it seemed to be a fairly simple recipe with minimal ingredients and not to mention, A’s favorite ingredients. Here’s the original recipe. I have halved the recipe and converted it to a language that A could understand. Here you go:

Cheese Muffins Recipe**:
3 cups flour
1 green spoon sugar
1 green spoon baking powder
1 red spoon salt
6 cups shredded cheese
2 cup milk
1 egg
1 cup melted butter

Method:
1. Ask Mom to preheat your oven to 375F.
2. Put muffin liners in your muffin tray.
3. Mix all ingredients to make a batter.
4. Add 2 blue spoons of the batter to each muffin liner.
5. Ask Mom to put the muffin tray in the oven.
6. Wait for 30 minutes. When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything!
7. Ask Mom to take the tray out of the oven.
8. Eat your muffins!

A’s measurements vs. Actual measurements:
1 cup = 1/4 cup
1 blue spoon = 1 tbsp
1 green spoon = 1/2 tbsp
1 red spoon = 1/4 tsp

I’ll also suggest that you personalize your recipe. For example, my daughter calls me “Mimi” and my recipe had Mimi instead of Mom, or of course replace with the name of the caregiver at the time – Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Big Sister etc.  Customize the recipe to the measuring cups and spoons you have at hand. I also had the recipe written out on a sheet of paper, which was affixed to the refrigerator at A’s eye level, making it easy for her to refer to whenever she wanted.

This activity teaches skills on so many levels! Oh, where do I even begin! At the very least, your child is working hard to read the recipe and the fact that they are excited to get to baking / eating means that they are further enthused to read! If your child doesn’t read yet, supplement the text with an image of a green/red/blue spoon, and then read the recipe out loud with your child. Math skills also improve as they measure ingredients. Not to mention that the chemical reactions causing the muffins to rise is a wonderful chemistry experiment. Above all, they are developing an invaluable life skill!

So no matter what your reason – whether you have a picky eater, a bored child on summer vacation, or just a craving for a homemade snack – do give this activity a try with your kids. Let me know what recipes you try out, and do share your customizations to make your recipe kid-friendly!

 

*Idly is a dish from Southern India wherein a fermented batter made of rice and black lentils is steamed in a special mold. It’s an extremely healthy dish loved by children and adults alike.

**Disclaimer: This post is a guideline to a method, and not a recipe post. The objective of this post was not to share the recipe for muffins with you, but to share with you my way of implementing a learning activity with my daughter. Apply this method to any recipe you’d like to try out with your kids!

Hands on the Arts Festival 2018, Sunnyvale CA

I’m really loving attending the plethora of child-centric events available these days with my daughter. We’ve attended Touch-a-truck events, aviation events, holiday-centric events, and today we made it to the “Hands on the Arts Festival 2018” at Sunnyvale, CA. While the target audience of the event were children, I’d say anyone would have a blast here! Participants could register online or at the event, and receive a wristband (among other goodies) that enable them to get their hands dirty with a whole bunch of fun art forms!

Each activity had a recommended minimum age.  I chose (as I always do) all the age appropriate activities. I prefer to respect the age recommendations as they are set with a reason. In keeping up with the “I did it!” culture, it’s important to expose your children to age appropriate activities that enable them to complete the task at hand independently, rather than activities for older kids that might prove to be too challenging for little ones. That being said, I took my 2 year 10 month daughter to activities labelled 3+ as she was able to do most of the activity (except, for example, using scissors). Basically, age recommendations are a guideline – follow them with discretion!

Out of the 33 booths set up at the festival, I’m going to run through some of our favorites. Hands down (and hands on!) A’s favorite was painting a real car! Silicon Valley Auto Body & Tow had donated two cars for the “paint a car” workshop. Both cars were white to start with, and kids grabbed cups of paint and brushes and painted these big cars! A loved this! I loved watching her find her way among the group and find her place in the crowd, and contribute to the designs on the car appropriately.

I also loved the concept behind the “Action painting” workshop. Here, a sheet of white paper was placed inside a box. Small items such as golf balls, marbles, little cars were placed in paint. Kids “rolled” these objects around the box, creating beautiful patterns with the paint. I’m definitely going to be trying activity out at home!

I was overjoyed to find a rangoli workshop. While traditional rangoli requires a fair bit of fine motor skill, the method taught at this workshop was a wonderful stepping stone to learning the art of rangoli. A clear plastic plate was placed on a colorful image (my daughter chose a duck). Kids applied glue over the image using a paintbrush, and sprinkled colorful rangoli powder on the glue to make a rangoli! I was so happy for the opportunity to introduce the beautiful art of rangoli to A.

Speaking of tracing patterns over transparent plastic, another favorite of ours was the “Incredible Shrinking Bauble”, where once again, she placed a transparent plastic sheet over an image (this time, she chose a teddy bear) and colored using permanent markers. These sheets were then placed in a hot oven and “shrunk”, into a size small enough that they could be attached to a keychain or a button. Kiddo was super proud to give her grandpa a keychain that she made herself!

These were just a few highlights of the dozen or so booths that we checked out. We also liked the button picture frames a lot – where A revisited her knowledge of shapes and colors by gluing bright buttons in different shapes to the border of a picture frame. The Art of Gardening workshop was a big hit and appropriate for the season as well, where we planted some pretty flowers in a biodegradable pot, decorated the pot and brought it home. I love introducing gardening to A as it teaches her to care for her plants and patience in waiting for them to grow. Other fun stuff included painting with water colors, cookie cutter painting, making collages of different kinds, Lego block printing (definitely going to try that out with Duplos at home – this booth was tagged for ages 5+ probably because of the size of Legos).

All in all, it was a morning well spent and I’m sure this will be a regular event on our calendar in the coming years. I loved watching A choose her activities, the images and colors she wanted to work with. I watched her exert her decision making skills and navigate the crowds, developing her social skills as she shared resources and participated in group activities. As a parent and an educator, I appreciate the thought and hard work put into each and every booth by the organizers and volunteers. Such events are not just about the crafts produced in the duration of the event, but the knowledge that we bring home with us. I can’t wait to try out everything we learnt, and go back for more next year!