Preparing food is a central component of Montessori education simply because it provides so many beautiful inroads to learning new skills. From the moment children walk through the classroom door, they have the opportunity to use real tools to prepare real food. There are many ways to continue making food with your child at home.
Start very, very simply. One of the first tasks children in the Primary classroom do is pulling grapes off their stems and preparing a bowl of fresh grapes to serve to everyone in the community. There is something incredibly satisfying about picking food - it roots us to the earth we live on.
Next, we introduce basic tools to the children, starting with dull knives that can cut or spread. Bananas are a good food to start with. Cheese or melons that have been cut into strips first are also very satisfying for children, and can be cut easily with a cheese knife (not sharp!) or small butter knife. Look for small knives that fit your child’s hand.
Spreading nut butters, jelly, or cream cheese often come next. It takes some finesse to hold the cracker and use the spreader smoothly. It’s important to start with crackers that won’t crumble if they are handled a bit firmly. Triscuits and rice cakes work well.
Young children, age 2 to 4, can become your sous chefs in the kitchen. They often find it very exciting to pour ingredients that you have already measured. They also love to mix with spoons or whisks. They may not do the most thorough job, but you can follow up behind them to make sure everything is mixed together.
Cooking with young children is all about the connection - with you and with the process of preparing food. You don’t need to invite your child to cook with you every time you prepare food. Sometimes the food simply needs to be made.
When you do find 20-30 free minutes to work with your child to prepare food, think through the process and simplify it as much as possible. If you are showing a child how to peel a carrot, gather all your tools: a cutting board, a peeler, one bowl for the peeled carrots, and one bowl for the peels. Show the child how to peel the carrot from top to bottom, holding it safely with your hand away from the blade. Each time you peel, place the peel in the bowl and peel again. Giving the child a place for everything helps them to organize the complete process in their minds and gain the skill more quickly.
Preparing food with young children can be a messy process, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Your child gains skills that will eventually allow them to be more independent in the kitchen, but more importantly, they spend some time connecting with you in a meaningful activity.