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Children Can Learn Math and Science in the Kitchen

Three young girls weighing sugar on a kitchen scale.

Written collaboratively by Kimberly Cripps, former SDSU Extension Family & Community Health Field Specialist, and Julian Witte, former SDSU Extension Better Choices, Better Health Community Health Worker.

Now is a great time to help your child learn and understand math and science while having a fun time. The kitchen is the perfect classroom. You have everything you need to show your child how a solid can change into a liquid and then turn into a gas. That is right. We are talking about taking an ice cube, melting it, and then boiling it. Here are some additional ideas to help your child learn new skills while understanding math and science a little better.

Identify shapes, colors, and sizes of fruit and vegetables as you put them together in a recipe. Which fruit is a sphere and can be cut into wedges? Which vegetables can be made into sticks? Which foods are the same but come in different colors or shapes? Which foods are different but come in the same shape or color? Can you taste the differences?

How many forms (liquid, solid, powder) can foods take? This is a great way to teach measuring and pouring skills. Allow them to pour their milk or juice for snacks by using a rubber band around a plastic glass and let them practice filling the glass with milk or juice. When baking with children, you can show them the different forms an egg can take. In a bowl, before making a batter, they are a liquid, and with heat, they become solid. Note: this is also a perfect chance to teach measuring and fractions for more advanced children.

Shopping or stocking is not only a great way to get a little helper, but it is also an excellent way to teach sorting and counting. Allow children to find, count, and separate when putting food in the pantry. How many tomatoes does the salsa recipe need? Make sure to use this chance to teach them to keep fresh produce in a different bag than any uncooked meat.

Cooking is math, even if it is just cutting a sandwich. Teach your children fractions by asking simple questions. How many times do I need to cut this sandwich into quarters? Fractions like a quarter are an excellent introduction into how we measure food: there are 4 cups in a quart and 4 quarts in a gallon. Measurements get to be much more complicated than just quarters, but this is a great way to start. Using a recipe shows how to apply these concepts, along with allowing the practice of reading skills.

Tastes and smells are also a fun way to experience different ways to cook food. Does fried onion taste like a raw onion? Why is it sweeter? Does broccoli taste sweeter if you fry it? Do roasted brussel sprouts taste the same as steamed or boiled brussel sprouts? For older more children, this can be an excellent opportunity to discuss chemical reactions that change foods like onions caramelizing, yeast making bread rise, or oil and vinegar emulsions.

The time will fly when making these experiences fun and full of learning. The more we do these activities, the more we can turn them into critical-thinking review games with each new recipe we use. Let's not forget the best part: the tasty rewards at the end that your children have cooked.