Homeschooling and the Kitchen Wonderland

It takes a lot of cooperation and time to build a house. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Years ago, we built our house, literally. Before we could start that project, however, we finished renovating the barn — yes, I raised my kids in a barn, at least for two years — which we lived in while we were building.

The oldest child was 9. It quickly became obvious that if, after the day’s schooling was complete, I were going to be working on nailing things and sheetrocking walls, there wouldn’t be a whole lotta time left over for cooking.

As this minor inconvenience didn’t eliminate our need for eating, we decided that cooking wasn’t a bad thing for a 9-year-old to learn. Initially, I was far less excited about this than the 9-year-old, because I’m a good cook and I like to eat well prepared foods. Most 9-year-olds are not amazing chefs.

But she became one.

While I was always on site, my having a hammer in my hand meant that I was unable to hover, querulously critiquing everything she did and taking over the job before she got it started. And while this meant that, initially, some of the noodles were underdone, or some of the casseroles overbaked, or some of the vegetables grey and mushy instead of green and sprightly, we praised what was right and literally swallowed what was not.

It helps to have a relaxed attitude of laughter and happiness, whether you’re building a house or eating a novice cook’s food. Brimming Over, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

As time went by, she gained confidence and skill, and I gained wisdom in how to teach: hands off, as much as I could. I also lowered my standards — not because she, or any child, didn’t need good standards, but because the ones we start with as adults are frequently too high for a child to reach. So we wind up pushing the kid aside, taking over, and grumbling when no one seems to want to learn.

Learning to cook — which is something too many adults in our society don’t know how to do — is an important factor in any person’s education, because people who know how to cook eat well — and cheaply. These are not bad advantages to have in an economic climate that doesn’t look like it’s going to miraculously improve anytime soon.

Cooking also encourages independence, experimentation (and do remember that experiments frequently fail), and organization, and regardless of the size of your kitchen, you can pull together a team of you and your kids to address individual tasks for a composite whole.

While some of you will turn this into a unit study, and thereby legitimize it as proper and appropriate schoolwork, you can approach the activity in a more relaxed fashion and still reap many benefits. As with any subject, each child will approach it differently, with varying results:

In cooking, as with any skill or practice, people do it their own way and follow their unique path. Highland Road, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed art print at Light in the Box.

Eldest Supreme is a careful cook, not too wildly experimental, but able to produce a consistent product.

College Girl is flamboyant and quick; the Son and Heir is methodical yet willing to take leaps of faith; Tired of Being Youngest — the one who has chosen cooking as her profession — is intense, driven, yet joyous. All of them have benefited by time in the kitchen — which includes cleaning up after oneself, by the way — and the lessons learned span everything from chemistry to etiquette:

  • Bread rises for a reason. It’s a chemical reaction involving living organisms (yeast) and food (sugars). When it fails, you figure out why. (Science)
  • If you don’t have all the ingredients, right in the midst of the process is not the time to discover this. (Reading comprehension)
  • Half of a quarter is 1/8; twice 2/3 is 1 1/3. Numbers matter. (Math)
  • You don’t mix raw meat and vegetables on the same unwashed cutting board. (Health)
  • Fried potatoes, buttered noodles, and rice do not a balanced meal make. (Nutrition)

The kitchen is frequently associated with an attitude of derision, as in,

“Frumpy housewives who have no professional skills at all potter about in the

The kitchen isn’t a limited place; it provides an unlimited landscape for creativity and skill. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

kitchen. Professional women work in offices.”

But those frumpy housewives, who may be men, know how to take raw ingredients and transform them into something that people in offices pay good money for someone else to do.

Spend time with your kids. In the kitchen. You won’t regret it.

I write about food every Tuesday, and if you’re looking for something to create in the kitchen, check out my Recipes section.

If you’re a Christian, or just interested in the subject, you can find my column, Commonsense Christianity at BeliefNet. Here are some recent posts:

Baaaaaadddd Christians — Redeemed!

10 Ways to Be a Successful Christian

The Four Year Old Christian

Christian Leadership and Ordinary People

If you want to learn how to save money, look at my book Live Happily on Less. If you want to learn how to write better, or teach your child to do so, look at my book Grammar Despair.

This article is linked to Thrifty Thursday, Thoughtful Spot, Graced Simplicity, Katherine’s Corner, My Cultured Palate, Natural Living, We Are That Family, Live Called, Live Laugh Rowe, Thankful Thursday, Serving Joyfully, Frugally Sustainable, Healthy Today, Mama BZZZ, Hope in Every Season, A Wise Woman, Wholehearted Home, Growing Home, Simply Helping Him, Raising Homemakers, Walking Redeemed, Happy and Blessed HomeJenny EvolutionOur Heritage of HealthThe Thriftiness MissThis Mind Be in YouSmall Footprint Family,

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4 Responses to “Homeschooling and the Kitchen Wonderland”

  1. Barbara Tibbets says:

    Good article on teaching children how to cook. My daughter-in-laws thank me because their husbands (my two sons) are better cooks! Did I do something wrong? Ha.

    • Barbara — I imagine that your daughters-in-law bless your name, regularly throughout the week, as people eat!

      I am convinced that learning to cook is a first, primary, and easy step for people to learn how to be more independent — because increasingly in this urbanized society, there is less and less that we actually know how to DO. We consume, we watch network and cable TV, we passively accept what we are told by advertisers and media moguls — but we do very very little. Pretty much everyone has a kitchen, and when we spend time in it, we make independent decisions — for some people, they may be the only independent decisions they make that day.

      You done good, my friend! — Carolyn

  2. Elisabeth says:

    I love this! All of my kids from age 9 on up know how to cook. (Not that I see much evidence with my eldest, but she works a LOT of hours, so I understand.)

    My 17 and 15 year old sons know how to do a complete holiday meal along with basic everyday things. (They can also do laundry and change diapers). I often joke that my future daughters in law will hopefully be very grateful!

    Everyone pitches in with a household our size (Baby #8 due in January, only our oldest is out of the house, she got married last year). And I think it’s good for them!

    • Elisabeth — I can’t emphasize enough how, in this modern day of techie toys and cubicle world careers, knowing how to do things for ourselves — and our families — is very VERY important.

      Nobody cares for us the way our family does. Nobody will put the love and effort into a meal, or changing a baby’s diaper, even, then a family member who loves another family member.

      Cooking is one of the many things we do that can foster independence and sense of confidence in ourselves — and that is what you have given, and continue to give, your children. You are raising a generation of thinkers, who can move and shake their surroundings to a much better place. — Carolyn

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