Dear Pigeon Plum Families:
Some of my fondest memories from childhood regarding the holidays are of cooking and baking with my mother and grandmother. I loved nothing more than to sit on the counter and watch the magic happen — and, of course, getting to lick the leftover cookie dough from the mixing spoon. Since the holiday season is upon us, I thought it would be a great time to discuss baking and food preparation, why they are appropriate activities for your toddler, and how to accomplish them at home.
Food preparation and baking play a big part in a Montessori toddler classroom, and it is no different in the Pigeon Plum classroom. Food preparation and baking are sensorial experiences: experiencing the different textures through touch, smell, sight, and of course taste. Manipulating the ingredients oneself can awaken the appetite. This makes one not only curious about the food but also more willing to try new, unfamiliar foods. Food preparation and baking are outlets for refining fine motor skills and assisting eye-hand coordination. It gives toddlers an opportunity to work with real tools (with adult supervision, of course!) such as slicers, graters, knives, and scoops, while also building confidence in their own abilities. It encourages patience and concentration, traits we strive for within the Montessori toddler classroom. Finally, food preparation and baking give toddlers the feeling of being important to the classroom and the community, just by taking part. Being able to prepare food for the ones they love develops the feeling or sense of belonging, makes them feel useful, and fosters their self-esteem.
“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours … the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” Maria Montessori
At this point, you may be asking how do I prepare food or bake with my toddler at home? Even very young children can help with things in the kitchen: gathering ingredients, measuring and adding the ingredients, mixing, scrubbing fruits and vegetables, cleaning up and helping to wash the dishes.
The following are some age-appropriate ideas for food preparation and baking at home with your toddler this holiday season.
Under 1 year old:
Watching, touching, tasting, smelling, and talking about what you are doing in the kitchen
Providing a safe way for your child to be at the height of the countertop so that they can observe what you are doing
Washing fruits and vegetables
1 to 2 years old:
Adding and mixing ingredients
Helping to set the table, a Pigeon Plum favorite
Peeling and slicing eggs, fruit, and vegetables
Spreading on crackers or toast
2 to 3 years old:
Squeezing orange juice
Peeling and slicing fruits and vegetables
Tearing lettuce for salads
Following simple recipes
Practicing more advanced knife skills
Using kitchen appliances with supervision
Weighing/measuring with scales
Okay, you say to yourself, these are great examples of what I can do with my toddler, but how do I successfully prepare food and bake with my toddler? The key is preparation. Think about what you are going to need from start to finish, and have everything assembled and ready. Have sponges/cloths, a small broom or dustpan and brush handy for cleaning up spills, because spills happen. Additionally, you may want to have a child-sized apron and utensils for your toddler. Lastly, lower your expectations and gather your patience. Expect that things will not be perfect, food will fall on the floor, there will be spills to be cleaned up, and that it will take longer than you anticipated. But in the end, it sure is worth it!
Happy cooking and baking!