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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    31 Days of Charlotte Mason: On Cooking Lessons by Mary Frances

    October 24, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    A big thank you to Mary Frances for writing what I consider to be the most unique contribution to this series!


    Mary Frances is a homeschooling mom of three who learned to cook from her grandmother and mother and who is passing that knowledge on to her own children. She and her husband are currently exploring the U.S. by RV with their three children, which makes for many varied nature walks and lots of schooling at picnic tables. Mary Frances shares her gluten free recipes at the Gluten Free Cooking School blog.


    Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is a multi-faceted jewel and one of those facets is the teaching of handcrafts to children from an early age. The first handcraft that my children learn is cookery. I teach them to cook because my best memories of my childhood are the cooking and because I think that it’s one of the most valuable life skills that one can learn.

    Before I go into the details of how I plan a cooking lesson, here are a few ideas from Charlotte to consider.

    1. Cooking is an opportunity to fail.

    Children must Stand or Fall by their own Efforts. β€” In another way, more within our present control, we do not let children alone enough in their work. We prod them continually and do not let them stand or fall by their own efforts.

    Vol. 3, p. 39

    I find it to be very hard to let my children fail when I am constantly with them while they do their school work. Perhaps it is easier to let them fail when they cook because I know how much I’ve learned from my own failures in learning to bake gluten free foods. Its always great to learn, learning to cook in the right environment is important. My friend was telling me about their new kitchen they had installed, inspired by best touch sensor kitchen faucet because they decided to build the whole theme from one specific item in the kitchen.

    When my son is measuring ingredients for a recipe, I step away. I leave him with the scale and the flour and the knowledge of what number he’s trying to get to. It takes a while. He goes over, and then under, and then over again before getting the correct weight. I do not prod or prompt or offer suggestions; I let him get to the answer himself. And then we add that ingredient to the mixing bowl and he starts measuring the next ingredient.

    2. Measuring cups are not your friend.

    One of my favorite quotes thus far from the AO Year 2 books is this one from Understood Betsy, in which Elizabeth Anne meets an ounce:

    Then Aunt Abigail let her run the curiously shaped wooden butter-worker back and forth over the butter, squeezing out the water, and then pile it up again with her wooden paddle into a mound of gold. She weighed out the salt needed on the scales, and was very much surprised to find that there really is such a thing as an ounce. She had never met it before outside the pages of her arithmetic book and she didn’t know it lived anywhere else.

    Charlotte Mason wrote in her first volume that younger children should have plenty of practical experience in ‘weight and measures’ as part of their mathematical lessons.

    On the same principle, let him learn ‘weights and measures’ by measuring and weighing; let him have scales and weights, sand or rice, paper and twine, and weigh, and do up, in perfectly made parcels, ounces, pounds, etc.

    Vol. 1, p. 259

    Children don’t get a lot of opportunities to measure in real life, but cooking is one. However, volume measurements (i.e., cup and spoon measurements) are of relatively little use in developing a conceptual understanding of weight and density. They also obscure one’s understanding of the nature of a baking recipe, which is actually a jewel of mathematics and chemistry. Even if you’ve gotten along fine with cup measurements, buy your child a scale and let them meet ounces and grams outside the pages of their math and science books.

    3. Cooking Lessons are an opportunity for personal initiative.

    Personal Initiative in Work. β€” In their work, too, we are too apt to interfere with children. We all know the delight with which any scope for personal initiative is hailed, the pleasure children take in doing anything which they may do their own way; anything, in fact, which allows room for skill of hand, play of fancy, or development of thought. With our present theories of education it seems that we cannot give much scope for personal initiative. There is so much task-work to be done, so many things that must be, not learned, but learned about, that it is only now and then a child gets the chance to produce himself in his work. But let us use such opportunities as come in our way.

    Vol. 3, p. 37

    My 7 yr old has only had a few formal lessons in cooking, but the opportunities that cooking will provide for self-initiative have already been apparent. Last week we were having a “Seek” supper (seek in the refrigerator and you will find leftovers) and none of the leftovers were to his liking. He decided that he’d make a bowl of oatmeal for himself. And he did. One single serving in my smallest pot.

    After he realized that his hunger exceeded the single serving, he came back to the kitchen and made a larger batch, for himself and his siblings, who had since decided that they would like oatmeal too.

    How To Plan A Cooking Lesson Charlotte Mason Style

    In my professional life, as well as in our home school, I try to approach cooking lessons within a set structure. Browsing the oral lesson plans in the Appendix of Charlotte Mason’s Volume 3 has been a very real help in applying CM’s principles to lessons that need to include more than a simple reading and narration. If you’d like to try your hand at planning a cooking lesson, these are the steeps that I follow.

    1. Identify a skill that you want to teach. I don’t focus on teaching particular recipes. Instead I focus on teaching the basic skills of cooking. Once a skill is learned it can be applied in any number of recipes, so the most efficient course it so teach skills.

    2. Pick a recipe that allows you to teach that one skill that’s new. I want cooking lessons to be short and pleasant, therefore I only teach one new skill. However, when you are starting out it can be hard to find a recipe that only requires one new skill. To work around this difficulty I often have the child come in for a cooking lesson that only covers one portion of the entire recipe. For example, our family’s spaghetti recipe could be used for lessons on browning ground meat, grating cheese, boiling water, and determining when pasta is done. This past week my eldest joined me in the kitchen for a lesson in browning ground meat and some practice grating cheese and then played with his siblings while I finished the recipe.

    Now we pick up with the lesson steps that may be familiar to you from history and literature lessons

    3. Introduce the lesson. Before you open up the cookbook, take a few minutes to give your student an overview of what she’ll be doing in this lesson. Introduce new tools, techniques or vocabulary. Give a demonstration, if it seems applicable. If this lesson builds on prior lessons, ask a few questions to draw out what the student already knows.

    4. Read and narrate the text. You weren’t expecting a narration in a cooking lesson, were you? Many of the classic cookbooks are more like cooking texts, and that’s the kind of cookbook that I like to use. I want my student to understand the whys of cooking and baking. So, have the student read the recipe and any applicable text and narrate it back to you.

    When you’re listening to the narration, particularly listen to see if the child recalled the steps of the recipe in the correct order. Also listen for conceptual misunderstanding that may become apparent as the child narrates. Correct any errors and misunderstandings after the narration and before the child actually begins preparing the recipe.

    5. Have the child prepare the recipe. At this point the child should have a good idea of what to do, so there’s no need to hover. Be nearby, keep an eye out, and be available for questions, but don’t hover. Your student will make mistakes and that’s okay. It fact, mess-ups are a good thing. I don’t feel like I really know a recipe until I’ve messed it up a few times. Every failure is an opportunity to dig deeper and learn how and why recipes frail.

    6. Sum up the lessons. After the recipe has been completed, take just a few minutes to wrap up the lesson. Here are a few questions that may be helpful: What did you think of that recipe? Now that you’ve finished, do you have any questions? Why do you think X did Y? What do you think would happen if you did A instead of B? If you can, send the student off with a teaser to whet his appetite for the next lesson.

    If you’d like to delve further into cooking lessons, here are a few more resources:

    Cookery for Children from the Parent’s Review Archives at Ambleside Online
    Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman
    Joy of Cooking
    On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee


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    9 Comments

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe October 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I am not much of a “crafty” person, and I’ve been a bit worried about doing handcrafts with my boys. But I do LOVE cooking, and of course it’s a natural thing for me to start with. Wonderful!

  • Reply Lisa October 26, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I LOVE this. I have a terrible habit of hovering in the kitchen and I tend to kick everybody out if they start making too much of a mess, but maybe if I approach it more deliberately and plan ahead the way you suggested I might be able to relax a little. Thank you for this post.

  • Reply Cindy Rollins October 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    I love the idea of making cooking a handcraft. I am not the best cook but I cook much better than I knit πŸ™‚

  • Reply Karla A October 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    What a great post! This might sound silly, but here it goes πŸ™‚ when I think of handcrafts cooking never comes to my mind (even though technically I KNOW it is). Trying to find a handcraft for my boy (who struggles with fine motor skills due to hypotonia) I never thought of cooking…but now I have πŸ™‚ I believe this could be what I have been looking for. Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      I didn’t think of it as a handicraft, either. I always categorized it as “life skill” or some other such thing. Not that it ISN’T a life skill, but categorizing it as a handicraft is brilliant, I think!

      So glad this post from MF helped you! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Leah Wall October 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Hi – the link to Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman is broken πŸ™

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      Thank you, Leah! I just repaired it. Let me know if I’ve made any more errors! πŸ™‚

      • Reply Divina July 20, 2020 at 6:38 pm

        Speaking of cooking, can a chef biography book be considered a living book or even a cookbook itself with stories from the authors?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 21, 2020 at 3:22 pm

          I think so. I think those are few and far between, but I have definitely read a couple cookbooks over the years that I would call living. β™₯

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