Many people think they need a special place in their house for STEM activities and experiments, which is not true! Every house has a great place for STEM. This week I am pleased to have a guest post by Liz Woodiwiss, a fellow blogger who loves to inspire kids to be creative and explore through STEM. Liz will be guiding us how to explore Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in our kitchens with our kids at home!
STEM in the Kitchen, Science You Can Eat
Sometimes, the best learning happens at home and when you least expect it! Most kids I know love to eat cake, and most of them love to help bake as well. Next time your child wants to put on a chef’s hat and whip up something in the kitchen, plan to add a little STEM learning into the mix. Make learning fun by teaching your kids to explore everyday things that we often take for granted, like cake!
Engage your children’s interest by asking them where the ingredients come from. The answers will likely be entertaining and will help you get a better idea of your kids’ understanding of the farm to table process. Some kids totally get that eggs come from chickens, but may not realize that flour comes from wheat fields. Share as much of the process of farm to store as your children are prepared for. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Make learning fun by teaching your kids to explore everyday things that we often take for granted, like cake! [/perfectpullquote]If you have the ability to grind grain to flour, take a few minutes to do a quick experiment. Demonstrate how technology alters the grain’s properties into something that is useful for baking. Older children should be encouraged to research for themselves how various ingredients get from farm to table.
Let’s start this exploration process with a cake (recipe below). Gather up all the necessary ingredients and go over them one by one with your children. Discuss where each item comes from and the process and technologies involved in altering the ingredients from their natural state to their current state. Some items go through very little processing (eggs), and some go through several different processes (sugar) before we pick them up at the store and take them home to use in our baking.
Technology in the Kitchen
Next, explore the tools you will use to bake the cake. You will use bowls, measuring cups and spoons, a wire whisk or electric mixer, a spatula, a pan, and an oven. Chat about the purpose of each item and have your children tell you why they think each one is necessary. Is there an alternative technology you could use to bake your cake? Why do we apply heat to turn our cake mix into a cake? Ask what your children think would happen if you freeze the cake instead of baking it. Would the end results be the same, or would they be vastly different?
Engineering and Math in the Kitchen
Now you are ready to actually bake the cake! The scientific process is very important here. As you prepare to start mixing the ingredients together, discuss the purpose of each item. Talk about how important it is to follow the recipe and use the indicated quantities of each ingredient.
If you’re up for serious exploration (and don’t mind if you end up with a flopped cake), you could allow your children to take some liberties with the recipe. Let them think about each ingredient and decide if it’s really necessary. Be prepared to discuss the consequences, but don’t limit the exploration and creativity here. Let their little minds expand by engineering a new kind of cake.
As you put your cake together, show how the various ingredients come together to create an entirely new whole. When you cream together the sugar and butter, it changes the consistency. Adding in the eggs changes it yet again. After a few things are mixed together, ask what your kids think would happen if you put it in the oven at that point without the rest of the ingredients. Would you get a cake?
Explain why the ingredients are added in a specific order. Discuss what would happen if you mixed things differently or changed amounts. Would it alter the end result? Feel free to experiment at this point as well. These are rules that won’t hurt anyone if they are broken, and your children will learn more by having the freedom to change things up if they want to.
Some questions to help inspire further learning:
- What would happen if we left x ingredient out? (Sugar, for example)
- What would happen if we swapped amounts? (Sugar and Salt, for example – after all, they look similar!)
- What causes the mixture to go from a liquid state (batter) to a solid state?
- Would we get the same results if we made this recipe again?
Learning Can Happen Every Day
The principles outlined here can be applied to any recipe. Take advantage of every teachable moment by allowing your children to explore what they are eating. Playing with food should be encouraged, so long as learning is happening through the play.[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Take advantage of every teachable moment by allowing your children to explore what they are eating[/perfectpullquote] Kitchen ingredients are (mostly) safe for your children to experiment with, and allowing this type of practical, hands-on learning will inspire a deep thirst for knowledge.
Taking STEM into your kitchen will do far more than just give your kids some practical education. Your children will learn to appreciate every bite as they discover the vast amount of work that goes into raising animals, growing crops, and processing foods. Their creativity will be sparked as they gain the knowledge and freedom to engineer their own recipes and increase confidence using the technology available in your kitchen.
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Basic Yellow Cake:
- 1 Cup White Sugar
- ½ Cup Butter
- 2 Eggs
- 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
- 1 ½ Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 1 ¾ tsp. Baking Powder
- ½ tsp. Salt
- ½ Cup Milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for best results. Grease and flour a 9×9 inch pan, or line 1 dozen muffin cups with paper or silicon liners.
Cream together sugar and butter until thoroughly blended, then add in eggs one at a time. Beat until light and creamy, and then add vanilla. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add to the wet ingredients. Mix well, making sure there are no dry spots left. Add in the milk, continuing to mix until all lumps have disappeared and the batter is smooth.
Pour into pan and bake for 30 – 40 minutes. Start checking after 30 minutes. The cake is done when the top just starts to split, and the edges begin to separate from the pan. You can test with a toothpick as well. Bake 20 – 25 minutes for muffins.
Frost and devour, enjoying the fruits of your scientific exploration!
Liz Woodiwiss spends her time blogging, cooking, crafting, remodeling, and hanging out with kids. Liz spent 3 ½ years as Programming Coordinator for the Children’s Museum of Eastern Oregon, where she was able to tap into her love for children and be creative every day. While at CMEO, Liz was able to learn about and implement STEM into the programs she designed. She is happy to be able to share a little of what she learned about engaging children’s minds to learn through play with the readers of From Engineering To Stay at Home Mom. She currently resides in Boise, ID, with her husband and two cats. Check out her blog at reflectingbeautiful.com.
Looking for some fantastic STEAM activities to do in your kitchen? STEAM Kids has a book full of fun activities perfect for exploring STEAM at home. Check out STEAM Kids in the Kitchen!
For other STEM activities to do with your kids, check out some of my other posts:
Teach your child Newton’s First Law of Motion
Tinker Crate: Exploring Polymers
Circular Motion with Star Wars
Tinker Crate: Circuits and Optics
Teach your kid to be a Materials Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Project Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Reliability Engineer
Teach your kid to be a Mechanical Engineer
Be a Process Engineer: Play “How’s it Made?”
Learn about Forces at the Splash Park!
Exploring Energy: How Are Height and Distance Related?
An Explosive View of a Dinosaur!