So many parts of our day provide us with teachable moments. In these moments there is a lesson to share with children or an opportunity to teach a new skill. Sometimes these teachable moments even give us a chance to apply something a child already knows how to do, in a brand new way.
Meal preparation is one of the tasks that many families take on together. So if you and your children cook together – even just one or two days a week – you can incorporate math into your conversations.
Incorporating math when cooking at home is also a great way to make explicit connections between what kids learn in school and how it impacts their everyday lives. They can see how certain careers – like those in the hospitality or food service industries – need to understand a handful of different math concepts. Talking about math concepts in the context of everyday life is an excellent way to reinforce the skills that kids may feel only belong at school
In this blog post, I have seven ways to incorporate math when cooking at home. From the early stages of preparation through the final stages of cooking, there are many ways to integrate math concepts into your time together!
Making a Shopping List
If you are tackling a recipe with your child, an essential first step is to figure out precisely what you need to be successful. Then, you can make a shopping list together that includes quantities of items based on the one recipe or a combination of two or three meals you plan to cook. For example, if one meal requires two tomatoes and another requires three, you can have a conversation about adding five tomatoes to your shopping list. If you and your family don’t typically cook together, you could also take a spin on this and talk about how to make a budget when shopping for food to donate to a local food bank.
In addition to creating a shopping list, you can also figure out exactly how much money you are spending together. You might calculate the cost of a recipe or meals for the week ahead of time or estimate how much you think you might spend. Alternatively, you might review a receipt after purchasing items to cook at home and talk about some of your observations together. Reviewing a receipt is also an opportunity for your child to categorize items. You might ask questions like, “How much did we spend on vegetables?” or “What is the average price of the items we bought today?”
Using Measuring Cups
Measurement is a topic that is covered throughout the math curriculum. The idea of measurements can seem abstract until children hold different amounts in their hands. You might hand empty measuring cups to your child and ask them questions about which is larger and which is smaller. Depending on the age of your kid, you might talk about fractions or measuring cups – like two scoops of 1/4 cup – equal 1/2 cup. When cooking at home, you might ask your child first to locate the correct measuring cup or combination of cups.
Choosing the Right Tool
An important strategy in the math classroom is to choose the right next step. This could include the best way to solve a problem or the right tool (ex., Protractor, calculator) to get the job done. Choosing the right tool in the kitchen (ex., Spatula, tongs) is also an important skill. You might talk to your child about your decision on which tool to use while cooking and how more than one tool might be effective. This type of conversation can help kids see themselves as problem solvers both inside and outside of the math classroom.
Keeping Track of Time
Learning about elapsed time or finding the start and finish times based on a recipe is a skill kids can use throughout their day. If you’re baking, ask your child to calculate the time when the timer should go off or when they should set a reminder to check in on the progress. If you aren’t popping something in the oven or stovetop, you might ask your child to track how long each task takes. For example, if you are making salsa together, you might keep track of how much time it takes to wash the vegetables and the amount of time it takes to chop the ingredients.
Finding the Perfect Amount
If you’ve ever had a big group to cook for, you know the challenge of figuring out exactly how many things you’ll need to do. You can ask your child to help you find the perfect amount of each ingredient as you change a recipe for different-sized groups of people. And, of course, if you find a great recipe that will make way too much for you and your child to eat, you can divide it to be smaller instead of multiplying to make it larger.
Distributing Your Creations
Making a recipe with the intention of sharing your creation? Sharing batches of cookies or treats with friends and family can happen any time of year. It’s also a great way to set a purpose for a baking activity if you and your child don’t typically cook together. To bring math into the conversation, ask your child to figure out how many cookies to give each family or ask them to arrange the cupcakes you make into an array. These are quick ways to get math involved in an activity that produces something special for your community, too
These seven ways to incorporate math when cooking at home are ready for you to customize and adapt for your family. Although you might take a peek at your child’s math curriculum for inspiration, finding the moments when math concepts shine – even if they aren’t on your child’s next math test – is still a powerful way for them to view mathematical concepts as an essential part of their everyday lives.
About Dr. Monica Burns
Dr. Monica Burns, Ed.D. is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, and founder of ClassTechTips.com. She hosts the Easy EdTech Podcast and is author of EdTech Essentials: The Top Ten Technology Strategies for All Learning Environments.
Photo description: A child cooks over a stove while being supported by an adult.