The kitchen is often a child’s first venue for learning about chemistry and physical changes in materials. What happens when we mix certain ingredients? Does it matter how much of each ingredient we use in a recipe? How does the cake batter change in the oven? Try some of these kitchen science explorations at home with your littlest learners.
Making music: Rummaging through cabinets and low drawers is usually the first order of business for very young children when they are in the kitchen. Of course you’ve made these spaces safe by removing anything of danger, but don’t remove the truly interesting pots, pans and dull wooden and plastic utensils. What kinds of sounds can children make with different materials? Is there a difference between using a wooden spoon to hit the pot and using a rubber spatula to hit it? Exploring the properties of different materials is very important for children. Remember, your role as the parent is to encourage this “music” and to model curiosity. Encourage your child by saying things like: “Those are some interesting sounds you’re making!” “I wonder if the sound will change when we use this spoon.” “Let’s listen to hear if the sound changes when you tap the pot lightly like this.” All of this conversation invites children into learning about the physics of sound.
Food textures: As you cook, keep your young child nearby to use her senses to look at, feel, smell, and even taste (when appropriate) the food during the process of preparation. Use running commentary to describe the various shapes, colors, textures and smells to build important vocabulary with statements like: “This dough is so smooth—and look how we can stretch it!” “Let’s see what vanilla smells like!” “The spinach is bright green.” These experiences help children build language and learn to describe properties.
Mixing: Some children at even these young ages are ready to help with mixing. Ask your child to help you pour the milk into the batter, then stir. Focus your attention on what is happening in the bowl by saying things like “When we started, the milk was white, but when we added it to the batter it turned yellow!” or “The flour began all powdery, but when we mixed in the milk it became all gooey!” These observations help children pay attention to the changes that transpire when some things are mixed together.