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I Ate My Homework: Teaching Math Concepts Through Cooking

If your kids are like most students, they probably grumble and groan when it comes time to do their homework. What parents don’t realize, though, is it’s often a lack of understanding, and not laziness or downright stubbornness, that’s causing this frustration.

For example, your child might know that 2 x 3 = 6, but he or she might not understand why that’s the case (2 + 2 + 2 = 6, as does 3 + 3). When it comes to mathematical concepts, teachers must contextualize functions before children can feel confident applying them. Kids are visual learners, and it helps to teach them new concepts using tangible objects and concrete analogies.

Whether your child is learning addition or long division, you can illustrate many of the basic concepts by using kitchen math–and getting dinner ready in the process!

Addition and Subtraction

One of the easiest mathematical concepts to illustrate, addition has always had a place in the kitchen. For example, if you’re making fettuccine alfredo for dinner and the recipe calls for three cloves of garlic, you can ask your child how many cloves you’ll be using if you add two more. Likewise, you can illustrate subtraction by asking your child how many cloves you need to add if you want to use five cloves total ( 5 – 3 = 2).

You can help your child contextualize the lesson by letting him or her actually handle some of the cooking tasks. Young children may not be able to mince garlic, but they can certainly help you count out each clove and peel them.

Multiplication and Division

Through multiplication and division are a little more complicated than addition and subtraction, they essentially use the same principles. The next time you’re baking cookies together, ask your child what would happen if you wanted to double the recipe. If the measurements include halves and quarters, this will provide a lesson in working with fractions, as well.

Fractions

There are tons of hard and fast rules when it comes to using fractions, but students who simply memorize these rules rarely succeed. By breaking down the principles behind the rules–and illustrating why they work using tangible objects, like food–you can help your child comprehend fractions, ratios and even decimals.

For example, if you’re making a two-layer cake and the recipe for a single layer calls for 1 ¼ cup of flour, you can literally show your child how 1 ¼ x 2 = 2 ½ by measuring 1 ¼ cups of flour each into two separate measuring cups and then combining them into one.

When you illustrate math’s basic principles with food, you’ll start to realize that math, like cooking, is as much an art as it is a science. You’ll also get to spend more time with your kids, making tasty dishes and cherished memories at the same time.

If your children are older–or eager for a challenge–you can teach them some of the more difficult math concepts through cooking. According to Wired, Eugenia Cheng has written a book on that very subject. “How to Bake Pi” is a tasty exploration of advanced concepts in mathematics. Pick up a copy the next time your family visits the book store, and you can study kitchen math together.

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