Cooking with Kids

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Cooking with your children is a natural way to spend more time with them. When H was a toddler, I made an effort to include her in the kitchen from time to time. Whether it was by helping to prep and measure ingredients, stir batters or do things like line muffin trays and wash produce, it didn’t feel like too much extra work to involve her.

 

I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t really given Y those same experiences, so these days, I’m trying to be more mindful in involving him. Examples include letting him smell spices, measure rice and lentils, scrubbing them (he strongly disliked this experience) and his favourite thing – passing me eggs!

I think part of the reason I don’t involve the kids in as much cooking these days is that I don’t make as many things as I used to. I enjoy cooking but hate the clean up (as is apparent by the typical state of my kitchen). Our days are often so busy, I try to throw a meal together in that small window between afterschool snack and dinner time, diffusing tantrums and engaging with the kids as I go. But the thing is, often the things that kids enjoy force us to slow down. They may be inconvenient in the moment, but slowing down is good for people, especially us ambitious, overachiever types, so there’s benefit in it for everyone.

As I write this, I realize that it’s a good time to start getting Y to help me prep his snacks. Not only will it help engage him and give him the opportunity to have great sensorimotor experiences, but it will help him become more patient, something that will help our family dynamics as he moves into a developmental stage where tantrums are becoming more frequent and intense.

Some time a few weeks ago, H and I were talking about pickles, and I reminded her that pickles are made from cucumbers (as we both had learned during a Magic School Bus episode, albeit, two decades apart). I asked her if she would like to try and make pickles at home, to which she responded quite enthusiastically.

It worked out so that H and I made these pickles on Friday night. While we approached this more as a science experiment than as cooking, it was fun to do nevertheless. The pickles were a little salty to eat on their own (we didn’t exactly follow the recipe) but I suspect they will be just fine in burgers. We used this method.

And the kids and I made stuffed french toast roll-ups on Saturday morning since I didn’t have a class to run off to this weekend. H enjoys helping me make breakfast on the weekends or during PD days (she loves to help with French toast and pancakes) but this was the first time we involved Y.

It worked out quite well. Y passed the eggs, H mixed the batter, H flattened the bread with a rolling pin, I spread the cream cheese, Y added the strawberries, H rolled them up, Y passed them to me to dunk in the batter and fry.

They tasted pretty decent. It was our first time making them so I would make a few adjustments for next time (I cheaped out on cream cheese and bought a no name variety instead of Philadelphia. It ended up being salty and some of the strawberries were sour). Y also ate half of a roll up and decided he didn’t like the stuffed version so I made him regular french toast with the leftover batter. You can see the recipe here.

Our latest cooking experiences coincidentally lined up with this drawing H made on Friday. This month they are learning about professions so the teacher asked them to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. H drew herself as a chef. “I’m cooking Haleem” she proudly said. Haleem is a south Asian stew that I started cooking this year. I love the way she drew her white coat and chef’s hat, but even more, I love that she’s cooking something I make. And the size of that ladle is pure awesomeness.

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While cooking can be a great way for someone to make fond memories with their children, it can also be a cause for unpleasant ones. Ask any child who’s been shooed away or yelled at for not doing things right. I would suggest to set yourself up for success by:

  • Being honest with yourself – If you’re a perfectionist and will end up redoing what your children are doing, you may do more harm than good. If you are truly committed to doing this with your children, remind yourself before, during and after about your reasons. No one is going to judge your 4 year old’s cookies. Their product is not a reflection on your abilities. And if you react in a less than ideal way, forgive yourself and try again. Chances are, this is a learning experience for you too.
  • Choose a time when you are not rushed– children sense impatience. We don’t want cooking to be associated with stress or anxiety, rather joy and spending time together.
  • Choose a forgiving recipe – Simple recipes with a handful ingredients are a good place to start. Smoothies come to mind.
  • Allow time for clean up– This is something I struggle with on a personal level and have to be more mindful of in our home. Explain to your children that cleaning up is part of the cooking process and have them commit to helping you collect dirty utensils and wipe down counters.
  • Have fun! – It’s really not about the end product, but the process. If it turns out delicious, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, it’s a good place to start reflecting with your children and coming up with reasons why things may not have gone as planned- phrase it as a mystery and think of what you may want to do differently.

Most of the “cooking” I’ve done with my kids is either sparked by something we’ve read in a book or H has seen in a cartoon, or as to do with a special time or event, such as preparing food for playdates, parties or to share with friends and neighbours. I’ve also noticed that when I’m caring for other children, we often end up cooking, whether it’s chocolate chip cookies, special desserts or DIY pizza because I had nothing else for lunch when my sister-in-law visited with her kids one afternoon.

Although this was a last-minute thing, I was really pleased by how it turned out. H and my niece who were both 5 at the time, were super excited to play “pizza parlour”- a quick game I came up with so I could quickly prep ingredients without them asking me a million questions. Essentially, I used two whiteboards, listed all the possible pizza toppings we had on hand and put checkboxes next to the toppings. These were their ordering menus. Their job was to take everyone’s orders while I prepped the ingredients. Then they returned and consulted their order menus to customize each pizza. It was an excellent real-life application of literacy skills and they were so pleased to be the waitresses and chefs.

My goal as my children grow, is to shift cooking from a special experience, to a more typical one. I’ve already told them that they will be responsible for making one family meal a week in the years to come.

For an overview of some of the benefits children can derive from cooking, check out these past posts about making lemonade, apple pie, gingerbread cookies, banana pops, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, and banana muffins. 

Do you cook with your kids? If so, what are some of your favourite things to cook? If not, what are some of the barriers holding you back?

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Jumping into Spring

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In Calgary, we are blessed with chinooks, essentially warm winds that we receive courtesy of our locations in between the rocky mountains and the plains. These winds help give us bursts of mild weather and surprise us with warmer than average temperatures, helping us get through the long winters. I really have come to expect snow at anytime between October and April.

Last week we had such temperatures and so the great thaw began. Snow started melting and the “little rivers” that start flowing under and around surface ice appeared. The sudden onset of water resulted in…

MUD!

And so after some mild splashing this past week, we took to our community park on Monday. The combination of sand and thawed snow resulted in some very impressive muddy puddles.

So H had a big hurrah. And I quickly learned that Y enjoys his puddles on a smaller scale.

And through books.

I bought this book (Split Splat) for H a few years ago and can’t help but sing it (no seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it). It’s so delightfully written and the kids and I just love it.

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There’s this book that Y really enjoys because it stars Peppa Pig.

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And this one because it features a dog, who is aptly named “Muddypaws” along with farm animals.

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And these ones that I ordered last month, but have yet to give to the kids. I think we will look at them soon.

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Mud and puddles bring H so much joy. The above picture shows her at 2.5 years old. I’m glad to see that three years later, her passion persists.

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Seriously, the grin on her face as she pushed her feet through the water, her boots filling, and mud flying all over me, and into her own mouth – priceless!

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We actually had to empty out her tall rainboots 3 times during this outing. And 30 hours after we came in, the faux fur lining still wasn’t dry.

During my almost 9 years living in this city, I’ve quickly learned that when you have weather that you like, take advantage of it! It will almost always change the next day (if not a few times that same day).

I woke up to my backyard and car covered in snow this morning. Good thing we haven’t put away those winter boots yet.

This year, spring has become my favourite season.

Learning the Arabic Alphabet through Play

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As H’s interest in letters and reading has really emerged this past year, I’ve been finding ways to extend her learning beyond English and French, into Arabic so that she can start preparing to read and learn the Quran.

Here are some of the games I’ve developed (all on the fly with using supplies we already have) to help learn and revise letters. Hope they can benefit families and teachers who are looking for more play-based options to supplement learning of the Arabic alphabet.

  1. Guessing Game – I asked H to close her eyes and pick a block out of the box. She told me which letter it was. If she couldn’t remember it correctly, I told her and she repeated after me. I made a mental note of the letter so we could focus on it more later. She decided to start lining up the blocks and then independently proceeded to review them. A great extension activity to be used with these blocks is while the child has their eyes closed, help them run their fingers over the letters to trace them and see if they can guess which letter it is. Because the letters are embossed into the block, this works really well and helps engage other senses (not just sight). We used our existing Uncle Goose blocks for this activity, but feel free to use these DIY Arabic Rocks, or draw the letters onto any other tactile medium of choice like duploblocks, lids, tree cookies and yes, even flash cards).
  2. Scavenger Hunt – Anyone who follows this blog knows how much H loves searching for things. In fact, she created her own scavenger hunt for her brother just yesterday (I will share it in a future post). I thought this would be particularly fun for her to do. To make this activity, I just took a blank piece of paper and quickly wrote out the Arabic alphabet (although I’m sure you could find much prettier templates online or make one yourself). I hid the blocks all around our playroom and then called H and Y to find them. H really enjoyed this activity and used the template to mark off the letters she found. Each time she (or her brother found the letter) she had to say the letter out loud and put it back in the box. At the end, she was missing a letter according to her paper so we reversed the process- each time she removed a block from the box, she said the name of the letter and double-checked her list. We discovered she had originally mixed up two similar letters. All of this helped reinforce her letter recognition. As with the last activity, you can create and use your own Arabic alphabet resources. Some more ideas include magnets, playdough cutters or stickers.
  3. Spatial Connections– When it comes to learning in general, I hate limiting myself and my children to linear or chronological approaches. While it’s an easy way to rote memorize things like the alphabet, I want my children to recognize the letters, even when they are not in order (or context). I have been very intentional about H learning the letters in a random order. To supplement this, one day when we were sitting on the couch, I just started writing Arabic letters randomly all over a lined page. H had to say the name of the letter I was writing. When we were done, she had the idea to go through the alphabet (in order) and draw lines between the order of the letters (like connect the dots). This was such a cool original idea, and extra memorable because it was an idea she developed!
  4. Chalkboard and Punctuation – We have a chalkboard wall in our house. Randomly on a Sunday last month, I decided to clean it. I thought that H had gotten a decent handle on identifying the Arabic alphabet (in it’s standalone  since the way the letter looks changes depending on where it appears in the word) so I thought I could move on and teach her a little bit of punctuation. I explained it to her and then wrote different sounds on the board. Her job was to use the red chalk and circle the sounds I was saying. My sister-in-law was over at the time was impressed that H was able to do this, as was I, because it was the first time I had tried to explain it to her and alhamdulillah, she caught on so quickly. Even Y, who likes to be a part of everything we do, was trying to copy the sounds.
  5. Sensory Search– As I was writing this blog post, this idea came to mind. I have a water table in the playroom right now filled with water beads. I’m going to hide the Arabic Alphabet rocks in them so that when H is scooping and squishing, she can happen upon them. I can imagine her excitedly running towards me saying “Mama, I found a Jeem“. If you have any kind of (dry) sensory materials (rice, beans, lentils) in a container, you can hide little pieces of paper or brightly coloured foam with the letters on them. If you want a more natural feel, you can use wooden shapes (I found these at the dollar store). I’ve  even seen people create search and find bags using taped ziplocks or bottles which are perfect as an on-the-go activity.

Do you guys have any fun games or activities that your families have come up with to learn or review the alphabet?

Ramadan 2018: Post 7- Learning Arabic Rocks!

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I had an idea a while ago that I was hoping to do sometime in Ramadan to surprise H with. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been dabbling with the Arabic alphabet for the past few years, but this year, I’m trying to reinforce what she already knows through various different games so that she can move on to start formally learning how to read the Quran.

So far, she has seen the Arabic letters in print (books and posters), on screens (often accompanied by a song) and on these cute wooden blocks I used to sell. (Note: I still have them in a variety of languages, other than Arabic so please contact me if you’re interested- the Farsi and Hindi ones are especially beautiful!)

I love the idea of a tactile resource so a few weeks ago, I finally decided to print the Arabic alphabet on rocks! I used paint pens I had previously purchased from Michaels.

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How cute would these be to make as a gift for someone? Slip them into a canvas bag and give a child in your life a unique and functional play resource.

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And because I like open-ended items and play things that can be used in multiple ways, I decided to paint moons and stars on the back of some of the rocks. I did this so that H could play a variation of Tic-Tac-Toe, a game she discovered a few months ago and loves playing on a dry-erase board.

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Someone could just as easily paint or draw whatever might capture the interest of their child: animals, geometric designs or just leave them in their beautiful, natural state. I love the variety of colour, shape and size!

H found these photos on my phone last week (before I had a chance to add them into her Ramadan Calendar) so we decided to play with them. She was so excited!

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And she went about ordering the alphabet (though as you can see, she doesn’t yet know that Arabic is written and read from right to left).

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Y loves playing with them too. He turned ONE 10 days ago and loves filling and dumping things.

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P.S. I hope you appreciated my carefully crafted pun!

P.P.S. I confess that I ran out of rocks! I still need to complete the other half of the alphabet.

 

Ramadan 2018: Post #3- Decorate!

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We don’t really have annual decorations that we use in Ramadan. So far it’s been mainly homemade items that tie into some other area of learning or craft projects. But as the kids get older, I suspect more of a theme will emerge.

Like many adults, I swoon at the beautiful colour schemes and minimalist Ramadan decor that has taken the Western Muslim world by storm. But I know that that just wont work for my family right now (given the type of space and furniture we have and our children’s ages). We very much advocate for them feeling like this is their home too so as tempting as a magazine-inspired spread is, we aren’t there yet. Everything that’s up in our house is intentionally there- there is a story, a deeper meaning, a specific learning that happened. So I take a deep breath and let go of my expectations and do what I typically do: I consult H and then we collaborate.

The Monday before Ramadan started, we began to decorate. The first thing we did was add to our calendar. I created our Ramadan calendar 3 years ago and we have been reusing it since. It’s made from foam board, felt and a glue gun. I typically use cards made out of card stock or cut up cue cards and draw pictures on one side (because visual literacy is important and helps children make connections to text when they’re ready). Typically, the cards have activities or tasks, often linked to caring for others. As the kids needs change, I will also include more specific learning like Quranic ayat and hadeeth. See how we have used it in years past here and here.

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This year, H and I decided to make a dome. I cut out the shape from cardboard for H and she painted it. She initially chose green and then changed her mind when she saw the gold paint. I said she could add glitter to her dome so she chose purple glitter.The newly minted dome definitely gave the calendar a lift.

I had a DIY banner lying around that I had previously purchased from Dollarama. H helped me punch holes. I added yarn (we didn’t have twine or rope on hand). I was getting ready to write letters when H reminded me, “I know how to do letters!” so she ended up writing the letters I dictated. The “D” is upside down because the paper was upside down when she was writing it (I was chasing after Y in that moment).

The perfectionist in me wanted to micro-manage how she drew the letters (heck, the perfectionist in me wanted to do the letters myself!) but the educator in me rose above and recognized how meaningful and empowering it would be for H to do this herself.

I cleared H’s past artwork off of the toy shelf after asking her permission and we added some lanterns. I decided to to add some prints in some new frames I had lying around the house. (I did a Google search for free images and downloads because I didn’t feel like I had the time to browse more and pick one out but I plan to do so in the future).  She chose to add the glass candle holders and flower candles.

H has been reviewing the Arabic alphabet for what feels like years. As a fun way to review her letters (and for me to seriously assess how well she knows them) I included a little chalkboard. Each night, I write one of the 28 letters on the chalkboard (in a random order). I include a corresponding block and in the morning, H can tell me what letter it is and she attempts to draw it in the small sand tray I’ve incorporated into that space. We haven’t been very serious about learning Arabic but I do feel she’s ready to take it up a notch.

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We also have a lamp that we’ve been hanging decorations off of, including some of H’s past and present creations. This is Y’s favourite section as he loves to hit the hanging decorations and watch them sway.

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Lastly, I gathered all of our Ramadan related books and put them in H’s Ramadan basket from last year so we could easily find them.

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Decoration for us is going to be an ongoing thing this Ramadan. As we create more and more things, we will integrate them into our decor. I’m curious to see how the space will look by the end of the month.

Lemonade

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For a few months now, H has casually been dropping hints: “Remember that time we made lemonade?” …”I love lemonade”…”I wish we could make lemonade…”

Like many well-intentioned parents, I added it to my list of “Things to do with my children.” That list, by the way, includes a bunch of things that aren’t even developmentally appropriate anymore.

So earlier this month when I was making a rare trip to the grocery store (because since the induction of child #2 and the inception of click and collect, my trips have been drastically reduced), I saw a bag of lemons on sale and heard H’s voice in the back of my head. “Lemonade…” it eerily beckoned.

In the weeks to come, that quiet voice was soon replaced with my husband’s not so quiet voice, that demanded if I had plans for the bag of lemons…you know, other than using them as cushioning for our green bin (organics composting).

So on coincidentally, what was the first day of spring, we finally made lemonade.

 

There’s still tons of snow outside and given how many lemons we had to juice, we won’t be doing this regularly, but it was a special way to perk up an otherwise, dull, afternoon (and at least pretend like spring is on the horizon).

If I had planned in advance to make lemonade, I would have written out the recipe for H to help with her emerging literacy skills, but she did get to benefit from:

  • Fine motor practice – required hand and finger muscles to juice the lemons
  • Numeracy – to count and measure ingredients
  • Sensory – the aromatics and tasting were exciting, for Y too!
  • Experimenting – freezing water to make ice cubes, seeing the sugar dissolve into hot water and watching the consistency change; tasting the lemon juice become more diluted with every cup of water, and perhaps most exciting: seeing the colour of the juice change after adding strawberries
  • Creative Liberty– H asked about adding mint (we didn’t have any) so opted for strawberries. She’s already looking forward to playing around with different flavours.

 

Super simple sensory snow set up

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I used to do a lot of sensory play with H. Because she was an early winter baby, by the time her first spring and summer rolled around, I was able to take her outside and experience our wonderful world. She felt the grass on her knees and the sand between her fingers. And I didn’t have to do a thing.

Y was born in mid-May, so he briefly experienced autumn, however he was not mobile then. He goes outside with me every day, so while he routinely feels the cold wind and the giant wet snowflakes kiss his face, he hasn’t played in the snow yet.

I’ve been dreaming about spring and summer and taking my baby out to crawl and toddle about but I woke up this morning to yet another blanket of snow (it continued to fall all day), so this afternoon I finally decided to bring some in.

It was a super easy and quick set up. I placed Y in his play yard so I could go outside and grab some fresh snow (otherwise he would’ve been up the stairs).

image I put down a table cover we use for art, and filled some snow in the baby bathtub (which is no longer used for baths). I added some kitche tools, bath toys, little people and a few sand toys that I washed off.

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Y was eager to get to the toys. He tried three times to get the pink starfish but recoiled each time, shivering. He was not liking the cold and instead opted to just collect the people.

 

 

H played intermittently, warming up her hands in between. I offered Y some snow but he touched it and decided it was not going to happen.

 

The snow was wet and excellent for packing. I used a baking spoon to make a “macaroon” and Y took it right out of my hand and decided the snow would make a  good teething biscuit.

 

If you would like to see some great ideas for snow/ice play in indoor and outdoor settings, check out this past post.