S.T.E.A.M. is a huge buzzword in education today.
For those of you that are unfamiliar, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math focused education. Great S.T.E.A.M. programs use and integrate those five topics to help students explore, ask questions, engage in dialogue and create memorable learning experiences. As a former public school elementary teacher and current homeschooling mom, I LOVE S.T.E.A.M. education! It’s very hands-on and follows a natural pattern of learning for children instead of sticking them in front of a textbook and worksheet.
As a health and recipe blogger, I also spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s always been meaningful for me to create with my hands and use my brain for the science involved in the trial-and-error of cooking. It’s a perfect marriage of left and right brain skills that connects with me in a way not many other things do! My kids join me often in my kitchen science endeavors and we learn together as I (try) to pass my passion on to them. It is such a part of our normal routine that it took me awhile to realize that we were doing a lot of learning without even realizing it (how’s that for natural education?). Plus, it’s a safe way for them to touch, taste, mix and smell because you’re using food products! I’ve started being more intentional about using our kitchen time to fit the S.T.E.A.M. model of learning and I wanted to share some of that with you today.
Important things to know:
- You don’t have to be a trained teacher or professional to make meaningful learning experiences with your children. Explore, make mistakes and make messes together. Learning is a natural byproduct of hands-on DOING. Just trying new things and asking questions helps your kids engage in the cognitive process of learning. Plus, they will love exploring with their favorite person (YOU).
- You can adapt activities to fit children of ALL ages! As you might remember from my previous guest blog (HERE), our family was blessed with our second boy after four years of secondary infertility. Having two children six years apart sometimes makes it challenging to find things that they both enjoy and can get a lot out of. Kitchen S.T.E.A.M. is perfect because Liam can play, make a mess and have fun while he’s absorbing in his toddler way. Parker, age seven, can go deeper into the science, math and cognitive skills behind our activities. The beauty of this is that every child can learn in their own way, at their own pace and at their own level.
- Take the pressure off! Don’t worry if you don’t have fancy tools or supplies. Get creative with what you have on hand and adapt as you go. Children get the most out of hands-on, exploratory learning. You can even learn new things when you have to adapt! Don’t worry about it being perfectly set up or following a certain formula. Just have fun!
- Mix and match activities. If your child finds they are passionate about a certain vein of S.T.E.A.M., pursue it! It’s great for them to have exposure to as much as possible and integrate subjects together, but always feed your child’s love of learning first. Use Google or Pinterest to find a plethora of activities for all different ages.
Here are a few activities to get you started!
Activity: Baking Soda Reactions
Supplies: shallow containers, spoons, baking soda, vinegar, food coloring
Directions: Cover the bottom of the containers with a thin layer of baking soda. Let your child choose which food coloring they want to use and help them squeeze several drops into the baking soda. Slowly dribble the vinegar into the baking soda and watch the magic happen! Allow your child to touch, stir or mix the concoction.
For toddlers – Let them touch the different stages of the mixture (dry, wet, bubbly). Name the colors of the food coloring bottles. Practice fine motor skills by stirring and scooping.
For pre-k – Talk about differences between solids and liquid and how they can change form. Mix different colors together to create new colors. Have them help scoop and pour to practice coordination.
For elementary – Talk about the reaction happening between sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid. Try different kinds of vinegar to see if they have different reactions with the baking soda.
We are blessed to have a MILLION kitchen tools that display how technology has helped make our lives easier. Children are fascinated by how they work and I want them to learn how to use them in a safe way. When I use an appliance, I use it as an opportunity to tell my kids how it works and how to use it correctly. Here are some ideas to get your children used to kitchen technology but, remember, these are just ideas! You know your child’s ability better than anyone and it’s better to always air on the side of caution and safety when it comes to your children and cooking.
For toddlers – Have them put lids on appliances, press buttons (not near beaters or blades), or watch noisy and visually entertaining appliances (like blenders, food processors, and mixers).
For pre-k – Practice plugging in and unplugging appliances and talk about the safe way to do it. Turn the blender or food processor on and off (with the top on).
For elementary – Teach them how to set cooking timers, adjust mixer speeds, or (carefully) use a candy or meat thermometer.
Activity: Bridge Suspension
Supplies: canned goods (I use 6 oz cans for my toddler and full 15-16 oz cans for my elementary school son), strips of cardstock (1”-2” wide), sliced carrots
Directions: Place the cans 3”-4” apart. Set a strip of cardstock across the top of the cans. Have your child stack the carrots and see how high they can make the stack without collapsing the bridge. Hint: anchor the paper on the cans first before putting weight in the middle.
For toddlers – Practice fine motor skills by picking up carrots and stacking them. Enjoy watching the stacks collapse and practice persistence building them. Count the carrots as you stack to introduce numbers.
For pre-k – Have them practice counting the carrots. Discuss how weight distribution helps such a thin paper hold so much weight. Practice basic addition by adding carrot slices in groups. Make predictions about how many carrots the bridge will hold.
For elementary ages – Discuss weight distribution and suspension. Look up photos of how real bridges are constructed for reference. Experiment with different sizes of cans and widths between the cans.
Activity: Food Painting
Supplies: paper (or tortillas), new paint brushes (so there is no paint residue), new artist palettes or disposable plates, assorted food in a variety of colors and textures.
Directions: Prepare an artist palette for each child with various foods. Give each child a paper or tortilla for painting and a paintbrush. Let the child create a masterpiece using food items. When they are finished, they can either eat their creation (on a tortilla) or let the paper dry (hint: these don’t keep long since they have food on them).
For toddlers – Name the different foods and colors. Talk about textures with them: soft, wet, dry, cold, hard, etc. Let them taste different items. Practice fine motor skills by painting with a brush or their fingers.
For pre-k – Draw and name shapes on their paper. Talk about colors and food groups (fruit, vegetable, etc.). Try mixing colors to achieve new colors.
For elementary ages – Discuss taste buds and different types of flavors (sweet, sour, bitter, etc.). Discuss how colors are related to nutritional makeup. Make prints with different shaped fruits and vegetables. Discuss and research how conventional paint is made vs. early paints made out of food/nature items.
Supplies: Mixing bowls, standing mixer, measuring cups and spoons, see recipe for food items
*I have to give a little shout out to my son, Parker! He helped me create this recipe through discussion, trial and error. We had so much fun creating it and experimenting together and he was very proud of how his recipe turned out. Cooking is the perfect way to teach math and science!
RECIPE: Apple Pie Energy Bites
Yield: 16-18 bites
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 c. coconut sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/3 c. almond flour
2 Tbsp. coconut flour
1/4 c. raisins
1/3 c. shredded, unsweetened coconut
Right after chopping, toss shredded apple with lemon juice to prevent browning. In a mixing bowl, cream butter, coconut sugar and vanilla. Stir in apples. Add salt, cinnamon, almond flour and coconut flour slowly, mixing continuously. Fold in raisins and coconut flakes. Form dough into tablespoon-sized balls and refrigerate until firm on a plate lined with wax paper. Enjoy!
For toddlers – Allow them to help measure and pour, name ingredients and feel their texture and taste. Let them “help” roll and mold the dough.
For pre-k – Discuss measuring and have them fill the measuring utensils. Talk about wet vs. dry ingredients. Have them help roll dough. Clean up together.
For elementary ages – Discuss fractions using measuring cups. Have them measure, pour and operate the mixer. Let them roll the dough balls independently and take the lead in cleaning up.
I hope you enjoy these activities and I hope it gives you just a taste of all the fun and possibilities out there with S.T.E.A.M. education in the kitchen. Happy creating, learning and memory-making!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Spencer is the founder of The RADiant Chef (theradiantchef.com), a place for whole health: mind, body and spirit. As someone who has dealt with anxiety, depression, infertility, pregnancy loss, an eating disorder and PCOS, her passion is loving on others and walking alongside them in their life journey.
Spencer lives in the Shenandoah Valley with her husband and two miracle boys where she is a homeschooling mom and blogger. She welcomes you on her new blog where you can find recipes, posts on wellness topics, community and lots of love as you discover your radiant self!