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Book Review: Kids in the Kitchen by Sara E. Cotner and Kylie D’Alton

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Whenever I’m working in the kitchen, I can count on my little one wanting to be there next to me, hands full of flour and more tidbits going into his mouth than into the mixing bowl. And it’s no wonder. With all of the different textures, smells, and sensations to feel, cooking really does offer a perfect learning environment for children. There’s no need to wait, however, for your kids to be old enough to turn on the stove to get them involved in food preparation. There are plenty of activities that are appropriate for those as young as 18 months and that continue through the elementary school years. Sara E. Cotner (of the blog Feeding the Soil) and Kylie D’Alton (of the blog How We Montessori) give us step-by-step instructions on how to do this in Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way (2012, CreateSpace).

The authors open by sharing with us their paths to Montessori and the positive impacts they’ve seen the philosophy bring to their homes. They are raising happy children who have a healthy sense of themselves as contributing members of their families. They have achieved this, they say, by providing an environment for that is engaging and capitalizes on the fact that in their earliest years our kids are little sponges (“Absorbent Minds” in Montessori’s terms), soaking up everything around them. This book is a nuts and bolts guide on how to create such an environment in your own home kitchen.

After the overview of why these activities are important and a listing of the developmental milestones that will be most supported, Cotner and D’Alton get down to business. There are simple instructions on how to set up your kitchen to best allow your children to participate and explanations of key tools that you will need. Next, they list 20 kitchen skills and give detailed descriptions, both narrative and pictorial, of how to teach them to your child. Finally, there are 10 recipes that are, again, represented in both photos and words. They close with suggestions on how to take the next step by applying this methodology to other household tasks.

This is a very thoughtful and well-planned book that provides a clear path to help your child achieve independence in the kitchen with confidence. I’ve seen in my own son the desire to be helpful and the pride he has when he’s allowed to do these tasks for himself. I found Cotner and D’Alton’s suggestions useful and easy-to-implement and they’ve inspired me to take the time to allow my son to help more in the kitchen. And it does take time. These are not things to try when you’re scrambling to get dinner on the table. These are activities to share with your child when you have the time to give him/her your full attention.

It should be noted that the recipes here are directed towards the kids. In this book you will not find meals that your children can help prepare for dinner. What you will find are simple, familiar snacks that are likely already in your menu rotation. The value that the authors add is to break each recipe down into individual steps with accompanying photographs that your child can follow on his/her own, thus helping to foster the independence you’re teaching along with the basic skills.

The goal of the authors is to help you help your child. To that end, all proceeds from this book will go to Montessori for All, whose goal is to “help all children gain access to an excellent education by opening and leading high-performing, authentic, public Montessori charter schools in diverse communities across the country.” If you’re unfamiliar with Montessori philosophy, this book provides a tangible introduction that you can easily wrap your mind around and begin to practice immediately. If you’re already a Montessori convert, this is wonderful guide that will help you engage with the principles in your daily life. Either way, it will get you in the kitchen with your kids, which is always a good thing.

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