Food Preparation and the Young Child
There are many different approaches to teaching and educating children. Montessori is one of the most well known and trusted methodologies based on the teachings of Maria Montessori. Her approach is a child-centred one in which observations of individual children guide the teachers in how to educate the child. Montessori has been used for more than 100 years in schools around the world. Through the cultivation of a thoughtful and engaging environment, Montessori schools aim to help children develop on multiple levels: physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. Montessori uses a number of activities to engage children and preparing and serving food is one of them. When it comes to teaching children food skills in a Montessori environment, there are numerous techniques and advantages.
Food Preparation as a Child-Centred Activity
We all know the benefits of cultivating a healthy relationship with food as an adult, and Montessori teachings like to get that relationship started so a strong foundation is established early on. Food prep is a large aspect of life through all of its stages, and Montessori strives to help children internalize the foundations of practical every-day life as a means of developing their own coping skills and a sense of responsibility.
Food preparation allows children to see food as a whole, and to be part of and understand the process. For instance, a child will understand that a loaf of bread was oil, flour, water, salt before it became bread. Children may be accustomed to having the "product" on their plate ready to eat but they might not have experience in what happened before. How does a mango look like as a whole instead of just small cubes of mango ready to eat?
A Sense of Community
Preparing and serving food in the Montessori environment is an enjoyable way for children to cultivate a sense of community within their class, a thought and feeling that serves individuals well through all stages of life. Working together to prepare a snack that everyone will enjoy shows many people working together to produce a positive result, while each child is simultaneously showing mastery and control over their own part in the process.
Something as simple as preparing apple slices and cheese or hulling strawberries and sharing them with the group teaches cooperation and many fundamental single skills from basic food prep to working with kitchen utensils and mathematics.
Handling Real Food
The handling, prepping, and serving of real food allows the children to master these practical-life activities. These activities then translate into feelings of confidence and resilience as they are able to tackle real-life activities that they see adults doing around them all the time.
Fine Motor Skills and Mathematics
Cooking and food prep is the ideal activity to introduce basic mathematics skills. From measuring out ingredients to understanding numbers and counting servings for sharing, these food skills translate into broader skill sets and experience to apply to practical every-day aspects of life.
Fine motor skills are used when children learn to use their smaller muscles like those in their fingers, hands, and wrists. From peeling labels to slicing, placing small ingredients on larger ones and mixing, the mastery of fine motor skills leads to the development of gross motor skills that require more control and utilize larger muscle groups like kicking or catching a ball. The skills that cooking and food prep cultivate in young children are easily transferable to larger practical skills needed in life.
When it comes to teaching children food skills in a Montessori environment, the belief is that through the process of food prep, cooking, serving and sharing, children are internalizing and mastering aspects of practical life. These skills blossom as they are applied to broader responsibilities and aspects of day-to-day life. Children also benefit from the confidence it gives them to be able to master skills and activities they see adults performing around them on a daily basis. As Montessori strives to approach the education of children on multiple levels, cooking and food prep engage a number of skills from fine motor to mathematics and community mindfulness. Cooking has long been an activity that has brought people together, and when applied to children in an educational setting, they benefit from numerous social and skill developments.