How to Use Math in the Kitchen
Before my children were school-age, I tried to find fun ways to introduce math to them on their levels. As many parents, I worked with them counting toys, toes, fingers, snacks, and so forth. This began what I hoped would become a love for numbers and math. I also let my small children help in the kitchen by dumping ingredients into mixing bowls when I was cooking. We would count ingredients.
When my children got to school age, we began counting higher. We would count trees, flowers, dogs, cats, cars that we saw as we walked or drove somewhere. We also began adding things together. “If I have two apples and there are five people who want apples, how many more do we need?” It started by counting from two to five. It evolved to number problem solving. As my children have moved through math at school incorporating addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, we have played with recipes. In our household, we often doubled recipes so that we were sure to have enough for dinner one night and lunch the following day.
Recipes and Measurements
Doubling recipes makes for constant math because we need to remember every time that we look at the recipe that it will be doubled. Sometimes we need to cut large recipes in half. Sometimes I have played with the terms “dozen” and “baker’s dozen” so that I can tell children stories about how “baker’s dozens” developed and we can play with cookie and roll recipes. As my children have reached 10 and 11 years old, I have enjoyed teaching them about unit conversions, simplifying, and fractions in recipes. They now follow recipes with little input from me. My mother tried to teach me these same skills when I was young. I could not remember that three teaspoons equals one tablespoon or that two tablespoons equals one ounce. I certainly could not figure out how many teaspoons equal a cup. I only learned that 8 tablespoons made ½ cup because of sticks of butter with measurement markings on them. I admit, I now enjoy throwing all this information at my children even though they might remember only as clearly as I remembered at their age. Now that I am an adult, I remember my mother sharing this information with me and it stays in my mind longer and more easily. It also helps that I now use the information regularly.
Another fun thing for me with my kids is comparing the metric system to the American system. We usually use only the American measurement system, but occasionally, especially if the kids need medicine, we use the metric system. I like telling them that five milliliters is the same as one teaspoon of medicine and have them help me figure out how much they need based on their weight. Usually it works best if I ask a child who isn’t sick how much a sibling needs.
Crunching the Numbers
I also enjoy using math when grocery shopping with the kids. We will look at serving sizes or the number of items in a package and discuss how many packages we need in order to feed the family for two meals. We also like to discuss how many pieces of something each person may have to divide a meal evenly. There are times that we have extras. What do we do with the “remainders” after we have divided up a meal or a package? Does someone get extra? Do we figure out how to divide the extra servings evenly within the family?
This also happens with birthday cake on each person’s special day. There have been times we’ve created pie charts on the computer when I could not divide a round cake, cheesecake, or pie in the right number of even slices. I have created a template and had the children help me follow it. We have also measured the diameter of round cakes or pies and divided the diameter by the number of slices we need. “So, the pie is nine inches around. If we have four people who want pie, how big will we make each slice at the outside?” It can create more complicated math as we try to divide it into more slices. It can be fun.
We do a few other things in our house to help the children see math – especially when trying to make something even. If two children want to split something, we will have one child cut and the other child choose. This helps the child cutting to learn to see an even half. I have even played with different sizes of cups and drinks. If we have several cups all the same size and shape, it is easy to see if all the portions are even. If we have multiple sizes of cups, it’s more difficult to see. If the children get too concerned over their portions, we pull out the liquid measuring cups. Now we get to measure the total amount of liquid and divide by the number of children wanting to share. Then we get to use the liquid measuring cups to measure for each child. This was, the kids get to see that different shapes and heights do not always mean different amounts. It sometimes is hard for a child to understand, but it also creates a fun way to use imagination. They can start thinking of different things they can use to hold the same amount of liquid.
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