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Let Your Children Help in the Kitchen

"The plates are always of china, and the tumblers and water bottles of glass.
Knives are always included in the table equipment."

—Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook

Boy Juicing Orange

When children come to a Montessori school, they are delighted to be able to do all those kitchen tasks that are sometimes deemed "too dangerous" for them at home. The Montessori curriculum is unique among preschools because making snacks, serving food, eating, and cleaning up are all everyday learning activities.

Popular with most children, these Practical Life exercises help them develop fine motor control and improve concentration. What's more, food and cooking can reinforce concepts in science, gardening, health, and nutrition, as well as math and reading.

The First Exercises

The very young children can learn manners while serving and eating their snacks. Two-year-olds can set the table, put food on serving plates, clean up, and wash the plates. Some teachers work with small groups to make fruit cobbler or muffins. The children take turns adding the already-prepared ingredients, then stir, bake, and finally eat the finished product.

Here are some individual food exercises for two-year-olds:

  • Children can cut small strips of cheese or small slices of peeled apples into smaller pieces using a little spreading knife. Setting up this exercise permanently at a table is easier than having it on a tray on the shelf.
  • Children can make lemonade with a wedge of lemon and a lemon squeezer. They squeeze the lemon into a very small glass; add a small pitcher full of water and a tiny spoonful of sugar. Then they stir, and drink with great pleasure.

In the Primary Class

Children from three to six years love preparing food, especially those who need extra practice to gain coordination and concentration. The following exercises are easy to incorporate in the primary class:

  • Peeling carrots
  • Slicing apples, carrots, or celery
  • Slicing a banana
  • Squeezing an orange
  • Slicing a hard-boiled egg
  • Grating or slicing cheese
  • Pitting cherries
  • Cracking nuts

Upon completion of the exercise, children practice Grace and Courtesy. When a child has finished cutting the apple or cheese and placed it on a dish, she passes it to classmates with the question, "Would you like a piece of apple (or cheese)?"

For additional ideas, see our article, Cooking with Children in the Montessori Classroom. If space is limited on the classroom shelves, various food activities can be rotated weekly.

Snacks in Class

Boy Preparing SnackDuring the work period, children in many classrooms help themselves to snack when they are hungry. Usually snack includes a fruit or vegetable, a protein such as cheese, nuts, or hummus, and perhaps a carbohydrate such as crackers, tortillas, or bread. Children serve themselves buffet-style and then sit at a designated snack table to enjoy the food.

In some schools, older children get the snack ready. These sous chefs slice fruits and vegetables, dish up yogurt, and plate crackers. Special snacks might also be prepared as a group lesson for a celebration or to sample traditional foods of another country.

Children can prepare their own snacks from start to finish using the skills they have developed. The Montessori Services Snack Cards give four-step photo instructions that are clear and easy for even the youngest to follow. Children are able to make something special, such as a fruit kabob, a honey-butter sandwich, or stuffed celery.

The photos direct children to cut the cheese and place it on a cracker, or dip the banana in the yogurt and then in the granola. Teachers have told us that the children love following the steps, but some prefer to eat each item separately!

Endless Extensions

Children who bring their lunch can learn to set the tables with a table cloth, centerpiece, plates, glasses, flatware, etc. Then each child places his food onto the dishes rather than eating directly from his lunchbox. Grace and Courtesy skills are used as children wait for all to be seated before eating, thank the child who pours the water, and clean up together when all are finished.

Some schools hold a spring tea or dinner for parents near the end of the year. The children are involved in making invitations, planning menus, and preparing and serving the foods for these events.

Before- and after-school programs can incorporate Montessori's Casa dei Bambini model by including more real activities of daily life such as having the children fix tomorrow's snack. Dr. Montessori in The Discovery of the Child reminds us: "A good teacher will look for some way in which even the tiniest child can be of help. A little fellow of two-and-a-half may perhaps be able to carry the bread, while a child of four-and-a-half can manage to carry the kettle of hot soup."

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2015

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