My children do a lot of cooking and baking at home. They are not mini master chefs but learning to make really basic foods, developing an essential life skill in a fun and enjoyable way. Learning to read a recipe is a really important part of this.
Otis (6ys) is a beginner reader and needs help with new recipes. Here are a few ways we've been helping, slowly building his confidence and giving him the skills he needs to successfully approach a recipe.
Recipe Selection: Selecting an appropriate recipe is really important. We love, love, love, children's cookbooks but also find good recipes online. I often search 'simple ... cookies' or 'simple ... cake'. Determine how difficult the recipe is, is the child going to need help and how much? Do you have all the ingredients and can the child use all the equipment needed?
Ask yourself can the recipe be simplified, can the recipe be re-written, or drawn as a pictorial recipe so it's easier for the child to understand? Don't worry about messy handwriting or silly drawings, it's likely your child would enjoy a personalized recipe! Sometimes re-typing a recipe can help, in a larger font and with larger spaces in between lines.
- Read the recipe with the child first, from start to finish.
- Highlight or circle any parts the child is going to need help with.
- Talk the child through any parts they don't understand. Many authors use different terms, sometimes food has different names, explain these to the child, so they will understand next time.
- Note how long is it going to take to make, including preparation time, marinating or resting time (like with some cookie dough or bread). Discuss if you have enough time to make it.
- Note serving sizes, will it make enough if you have guests coming?
- Get out everything the child needs. Spoons, measuring cups, bowls, preheat the oven if needed. For younger children, you could put out all the ingredients pre-measured and ready to go.
- Have the child start on the recipe and see how they go - in other words, observe your child. If you have printed the recipe the child could cross off each step or each ingredient as it is added. I have previously laminated recipes so the child can cross off each step as they go with a marker.
- Supervise but don't hover. Be there if needed but unless there is a safety issue only step in when asked. Empower the child and give them confidence. Be there if the child needs help with the recipe with no fuss.
- Make note if there are any areas the child struggles with, remember for next time. Remember and keep any recipes that are particularly fun or successful!
- Once you and the child are comfortable with a few recipes, how about trying to write your own recipe? This is especially useful if you have discussed previous recipes and have recommended changes. We have made chocolate (cacao) cookies before that Otis has noted are "too chocolatey". So we've reduced the amount of cacao added and made note/re-written the recipe for next time. Give the recipe a new and fun name or name favourite recipes after the child.
I want to encourage all parents and caregivers to not only cook but to empower their children in the kitchen! If you can't find a good recipe to start with or don't want to buy lots of ingredients, there is no harm in sometimes using cake, or baking mixes. I want my children to be able to bake from scratch and to know what exactly is in their foods, but I also want baking to be convenient, fun and tasty. Otis loves the Green's Classic Chocolate Cake mix, he still needs to read the recipe, measure and add the butter and eggs - a good level of skills required for his age!
If you like the idea of independent cooking with younger children, you might get some ideas from my previous post Ideas for Independent Baking Montessori Style - From Two Years.