Cooking with Infants to Pre-Schoolers

Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba!

I find cooking dinner the most stressful part of the day.  I am usually rushing so that I can feed the kids, bathe them, and have them in bed early.  And most of the time, my kids tend to be the least cooperative at this point.  I always aim for it to be their “free play” time with their blocks or legos, but it never seems to go quite as I imagine.  Lately, I have been finding ways to get them both involved with special tasks to help.  Here are some tips for moms who need to get a meal on the table.

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Layaan helping me pan fry a fish fillet.

Infants

Before my kids could crawl, the bouncer was my best friend, for others it could be the swing, and who knows what other contraptions are out there now. We were pretty tight on money when we had my first, so the only fancy thing our bouncer did was vibrate.  Basically, I would make some funny faces, shake the baby toys, bounce it a few times, go back to my cutting board, and repeat until I finished.  I pretty much looked like a mad woman running around the kitchen.

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Muhammad at 1 month old in his bouncer in the kitchen while I cook.

After they became more mobile, I kept the cabinets that were accessible baby-friendly with pots, pans, plastic tupperware, empty cans, and anything else that was safe and interesting.  For little ones, being in the same vicinity as you may be enough, and other times they may want you to take a five minute break and bang some empty plastic bins with them.  You could pop them in the high chair with some yoghurt to make “art” or  place water and toys in a bin on a large towel.  Sensorial activities for infants are the best distraction, especially in the kitchen where the mess can be easily cleaned.

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Layaan at 12 months old.

Other times, if they were particularly clingy, I would just pop them into the carrier and sing or have conversations while cooking.  I did my best not to use technology as a distraction, though I was tempted to.

Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers

Once they hit the latter toddler years, it can begin to get a little tough to keep them entertained and out of your way.  They are far more curious and want to do whatever you are doing.  To solve this issue, I figured why not just let them actually help.

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Layaan rinsing the mushrooms after washing off the dirt from the fresh spinach.

Here are a list of easy and difficult tasks the kids can assist with.  You may be surprised by how helpful they can actually be.  I know I was!

Easy Tasks

  • Washing spoons/plastic dishes
  • Rinsing & scrubbing vegetables and fruits
  • Bringing & returning items from the fridge/cabinets
  • Using a dull edged knife (kid-friendly) to slice soft fruits/veggies
  • Mixing dry ingredients
  • Pouring dry ingredients
  • Counting ingredients
  • Mashing

 

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Layaan peeling cooled tomatoes for a homemade tomato sauce.  Muhammad, in the background, helping to rinse veggies and wash utensils and dishes.

Challenging Tasks

  • Washing dishes
  • Pouring wet ingredients
  • Mixing wet ingredients
  • Measuring
  • Mixing food on the stove
  • Slicing/chopping with sharp edge
  • Peeling
  • Grating
  • Sifting
  • Rolling
  • Using a mortar & pestle

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Layaan chopping the mushrooms.

Cooking is a great way to help build vocabulary, math skills, practice fine motor skills, sensorial development, and following directions.  Muhammad (23 months) and Layaan (3 yrs, 10 months) learn the names of the different vegetables, ingredients, and kitchen tools in all three languages (English, Arabic, and Urdu).  Throughout the cooking process, we pause to feel the texture, note the different colors and smells, and so on.  In a fun and practical way, I ask them to count the ingredients, or bring me certain amounts.

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Layaan mixing the tomato sauce.

Through the real life experience of cooking, we can touch upon a number of skills in a tangible way.  This concrete learning will pave the path to more abstract concepts later on.  It also teaches them healthy habits, responsibility, and life skills.  The added bonus, both my kids are always more willing to eat what they helped me make.

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Spinach and mushroom pasta with chunky tomato sauce prepared and cooked by Layaan & Muhammad with adult supervision by Mom.

So get cooking, and share your experiences down below!

 

Under the Sea Unit Study: Getting Started

Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba!

Happy Fourth of July to my fellow American readers!  We enjoyed watching everyone’s snaps and seeing all the pictures of the firework displays around the country.

On the other side of the world, we are trying to get back into a homeschool routine post-Ramadan and moving to KL.  To get the ball rolling, we are starting a themed unit, Under the Sea.  The idea was sparked by a visit to an aquarium in Monte Carlo on our last vacation.  Layaan could not contain her excitement when she found “Nemo” and “Dory.”  As we walked along, Muhammad was wide-eyed and repeating, “Wooooow,” the entire time.  So it only felt appropriate to learn more about ocean animals.

Getting Started

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I prefer to organize all of my ideas and plan activities in advance to give myself enough time to gather materials, books, and supplies.  Rather than placing a limit on the amount of time we spend on each unit, I am beginning with introductory activities and allowing the children’s interest to carry us through the unit study.  Furthermore, Layaan’s Arabic tutor is working on the unit during their lesson time.

Books

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I try to get a variety of different types of books.  Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse was a perfect fit for this unit.  Layaan and Muhammad love his books as much as I do.  It introduces the child to various types of fish, their names, the life cycle of fish, and other sea animal facts all in an engaging picture book format.

There are many beautiful nonfiction children’s books about ocean animals.  My criteria for their age were simple facts and attractive photographs.

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What Lives in the Sea? is an easy to read informational text for young learners.  It introduces basic concepts about different sea animal habits such as feeding and protection.  And then, it goes on to describe a few facts about each animal stated simply for young children.

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The Magnificent Book of Ocean Creatures is a giant book that I got for a steal at the bookstore Popular here in Malaysia.  I love it because not only is it hard cover, the illustrations in the book are beautiful and giant for each animal.  It provides more information than the previous book, but is still not too overwhelming.  The format is a nice introduction to an encyclopedia-style layout for elementary readers.

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Fuzzy Ocean was another awesome find at Popular.  I knew Layaan would enjoy this book, but I was thinking of Muhammad, twenty-three months old, in particular when I spotted it.  Felt pieces and play scenes are perfect for little toddler hands, especially ones who have a hard time handling things gently.  I plan to use them in matching activities to help build his vocabulary.

Activities

Seashell Transfer (2-3 years)

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This activity is for Muhammad, but Layaan enjoyed practicing it too.  At the local discount store, Mr. D.I.Y., I found bags of little seashells.  I introduced him to the word “seashell” in Arabic, صدف (sadaf).  I showed him how to place the seashells in the tiny basket.  We observed the different colors and textures.  Surprisingly, he came back to the activity with a set of tongs to transfer the seashells with instead.  It was a little challenging at first, but he was determined.  Eventually, he was able to get the hang of it in one sitting.

Clownfish Craft (3-6 years)

As I mentioned earlier, Layaan loves “Finding Nemo”, so it was a no brainer when I found this clownfish texture craft at Mr. D.I.Y.  This one is a bit challenging, and one we did together.  The kit did not include kid-friendly instructions, so she needed my guidance throughout.  I provided her with verbal instructions, and she did the rest. It was a great way to learn the simple parts of a fish such as fin, tail, scales, gills, mouth, eyes, etc while she glued each piece on.  We plan to do extension activities to further reinforce the parts, and read more about clownfish using our informational texts.

Ocean Themed Cutting and Gluing Practice (3-6 years)

Layaan wants to cut everything recently.  She even managed to sneak away the scissors and chopped a small bit of her hair.  Thankfully, it was not anything noticeable.  Thus, cutting practice is at the top of the list.  Learning how and when to use scissors and allowing her plenty of time to practice is helping her become more responsible with them.  After she finished cutting each piece, I extended the activity to include gluing practice.  I found this free printable over at Welcome to Mommyhood where there are plenty of ideas for ocean themed montessori activities.

Stay tuned as we continue our explorations under the sea!

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Plant Unit: Fruit Dissection & Craft

Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba!

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We continued our study of plants by examining seeds.  Two fun activities popped up on my Pinterest feed that were related to seeds.  I decided to combine the two activities together as they were related to one another.  The first activity was posted by the Christian Montessori Network called Montessori Science:  Dissecting Fruit.  The other activity was a beautiful craft idea posted by Pink Stripey Socks called Kid Science:  Let’s Study Seeds.  Both activities can be used in many different ways, not just for seed study.  They are both good for learning about the parts of fruit, using fruit nomenclature cards, etc.   IMG_5774

First, we did the dissecting fruit activity.  I thought this was such a unique idea to introduce pre-school aged children to science tools and the scientific process.  Layaan loved using the tweezers to pull out the seeds.  It incorporated fine motor skills along with science.  IMG_5781Before we cut open the fruits, I asked her to make a good guess as to wat color and how big she was expecting the seeds to be.  We observed all the seeds as we pulled them out and discussed if her guesses matched what we found.  Though I only have an apple and pear pictured, we also did it with oranges, grapes, and tomatoes.  IMG_5780After we rinsed off the seeds, we did the art activity from Pink Stripey Socks.  I drew the outline of the fruit, and she painted the inside.  We then glued the seeds onto the respective fruits.  Once everything was dry, we continued to observe the similarities and differences between the seeds.   This activity was great for comparing sizes of seeds, texture, colors, etc, while also combining art and spatial awareness.

I loved watching Layaan do this activity.  I could see that she was really intrigued by it all.  I watched a little scientist bloom through this.  Check out our other posts from our plant unit listed below.

Plant Unit Posts:

DIY Greenhouse

Plant Unit: DIY Greenhouse

Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba!

This is one of my favorite activities.  I remember doing it myself in elementary school.  It is incredibly simple, but the best way to visually observe how a seed grows.  Typically, green bean seeds are used because they grow quickly.  We had sunflower seeds on hand and used those.

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Continue reading

Arctic Sensorial Bin

Assalamu’alaikum & Marhaba,

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We are going to wrap up our winter theme soon.   Layaan, Muhammad, and I made an arctic sensorial bin using fake snow and arctic animals together.  I also printed out nomenclature cards of the animals in Arabic to match with the toys.  This activity is perfect for all age groups.  You can make it as easy and as challenging as you need for the child’s age. Continue reading