From the February 2015 issue

Baking and Making

Babies and small kids ages 0-5 explore by getting their little mitts (and mouths!) on lots of stuff, especially in the kitchen or craft area. And it’s easy to turn those everyday experiences into a bit of early education.

Three preschool teachers in Detroit have simple tips and insight. You’ll always find something being created in Martha Piesko’s classroom at Maybury Elementary School. Lisa Schrader is a booster of yummy food lessons at Wayne State University College of Education Early Childhood Center. And Zena Turner, lead teacher at Jude Family Childcare Center, even makes table-setting fun.

Get ready to get a little messy – and teach tykes lessons sure to stick.

1. Prep to learn

Setting the table is natural math, Turner says. Count the number of spoons and chairs at the dining room table – or anything else for an irresistible “I spy” game. “Always count around the house,” she says. “‘I spy one, two – three clocks in the house.’ They usually will repeat that with you.” Writing a grocery list is another great example, Piesko says. “We write for a variety of purposes,” is one lesson it teaches. Another: Organizing and preparing are important.

2. Dough rules

Whether you DIY (see the recipe) or buy (in the freezer section), making bread is an awesome investigation. “The dough starts out cold,” Schrader explains; as kids work with it, “it becomes softer and stickier.” Put it in a plastic zip bag and leave in a warm place, like the kitchen counter, to watch it grow. Encourage your child to experiment. What happens when you add more flour? Water? Turn it into a pizza – and give kids small, safe plastic knives: “They’re great at chopping veggies to put on a mini pizza” (bagels also work great for this).

3. Creative crafts

Don’t settle for ordinary. “Paint with toothbrushes or sponges,” Piesko suggests. Or set kids up to make a collage with dry pasta, beans (which are also great for counting/math), natural items like acorns or twigs or other scraps. “Don’t make a model for them,” Piesko adds. Instead, say, “Let’s see what you can do” to make a puppet – or whatever. “You want the process. You don’t want the product.” One important tip: “Keep it fun! Lay off the pressure. If they get tired, stop.” You can always revisit a project later.

4. Building blocks

When it comes to a classic toy with creativity staying power, look no further than a pile of blocks. Today it’s a building; tomorrow a robot. Beyond the open-ended imagination/innovation it fosters, “Blocks are a great math tool,” Turner says. Catch those opportunities to count them together.

5. Kitchen aids

If you’re cooking, have kids watch the ingredient process. Show them how to measure out a half, whole or quarter cup, notes Turner – and mix simple things like eggs. Get their brains going, too. For instance, Piesko asked her kids how to make a turkey. “Oh my god, they are a scream: ‘400 hours, 9,000 degrees, put it in the oven first,'” she laughs. “You are developing the skill of thinking. Children are expressing themselves.”

Simple Pizza Dough Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm water (plus an additional 2 Tbsp.)

Directions:

  1. Mix 1 cup of flour with all other ingredients.
  2. Gradually add second cup of flour until it forms a ball. Use hands to form and knead dough.
  3. Let dough rest 10-15 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish towel or plastic wrap to keep it warm.
  4. Spread onto greased pizza pan and top with your favorite toppings.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes.

– Recipe source: Lisa Schrader

A version of this story also appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Education Detroit.

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