Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Logic of the Three-Year-Old

We do a lot of cooking and food preparation in my class. Cooking provides endless opportunites for math and science exploration; kids are also more apt to try new foods if they have a hand in preparing them.

Cooking with three-year-olds can be daunting, what with the finger licking, the coughing into the food, the 12 kids all wanting a turn at once, the one child that always wants to throw the food across the is chaos. And if there is actual heat, like an oven or a griddle, involved? Now there is the chance of injury. The entire prospect has sent some teachers screaming from the room.

I feel the positives far outweigh the chaos factor, so I muscle through. At the beginning of the school year, I set up basic ground rules, designed to eliminate the chaos before it starts. The class and I talk extensively about waiting for a turn (everyone will get a chance!), safety rules regarding oven, burners and the like, and handwashing.

Handwashing is huge in my classroom. The students know they need to wash their hands when they arrive at school, when they pick their nose or stick their thumb in their mouth, and before we cook. They know that washing hands helps germs not to spread, so no one will get sick.

And speaking of germs, the most difficult thing to teach my students when it comes to cooking is that they can't lick their fingers (or the mixing bowl, or the spoon, or the beaters) when we cook. I establish immediately that while licking is awesome and fun and wonderful, it is only done at home. At school there are too many germs, and so to keep everyone healthy, we can't lick. My mantra is "You can't lick or you might get sick." This little rule is incredibly difficult to follow when baking birthday cupcakes - I mean, how can you NOT lick your finger when you get a little batter on it?

But, by October, everyone knows and accepts the rules, and cooking becomes a fun, and educational activity.

Last week, we were making birthday cupckes. To celebrate birthdays, we make mini-cupcakes as a class, and eat them at the end of the day. The birthday child gets to take the leftovers home to decorate with his family. The birthday child gets to pour all the ingredients in, and have the first turn with the electric mixer, and then each student also gets a turn to mix the batter.

As she is patiently waiting for her turn with the mixer, Elise suddenly sticks her finger in the batter and scoops some up to put it in her mouth. I catch her with her finger in her mouth, and I remind her, "You can't lick or you might get sick." I send her to the sink to wash her hands.

It is important to note here that Elise had been nursing a pretty bad cold for several days. While she had been cleared by her doctor to come back to school, she still had a nasty sounding cough and a runny nose. All the more reason I really didn't want her fingers in our cupcake batter.

It took me a few minutes, but I realize that Elise had been standing at the sink, with the water running, for longer than was needed for a quick hand wash. I left my post at the electric mixer (a parent took my spot), to find out what was going on.

Elise was standing at the sink, with huge, crocodile tears streaming down her face. I thought this was a bit dramatic for having been simply remided of our no licking rule, but she was sobbing as if I had shattered her heart into a million pieces.

I helped her finish with her hands, and then I held her, and told her to calm down so we could discuss why it was so important to not lick when we were cooking. She looks at me with her tear stained face, and says, "I KNOW why we have that rule. We can't lick so we don't get sick." Me, still not getting it, says, "Then why did you stick you finger in the batter?" Elise: "Because I am ALREADY sick!"


Makes total sense.



chandra said...

This called as true education. In my school days we did cooking and gardening and many shows that children should also learn what life is..these days many just want children to sit with books. which is of no use.

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Patty said...

I've read your ENTIRE blog posts.....cause I'm a preschool teacher and I'm BURNED OUT!!! Thanks for sharing your heart - it helped mine today.....

Wish you hadn't stopped blogging....

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Ram Charan said...
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Janney said...

This was an excellent read. Preschool is the time when a child's mind is most actively growing , which makes early education one of the most important steps in a kid's development. In fact, how these early days go by have a major influence on how well kids do later in life.