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Teaching our Special Needs Kids at Home; Cooking, Science & Tech.

calendarMay 1 2020

Cooking, Science & Tech; Here’s how!

In these days of lock down we are trying to juggle being a parent, housework, our day job and teaching our Special Needs kids at home!

But there is a way to turn cooking into easy lessons!

You may be seeing lots of talk online about how people are ‘giving up’ trying to teach their kids. But remember, you can’t turn your home into a replica of the classroom but talking about ‘giving up’ can make you feel like a failure. You are NOT a failure at all, when teaching our special needs kids at home, a different approach may just be better.

Instead of creating a formal learning environment and getting frustrated because your child is getting distracted, get them involved in an activity like cooking. You can use food to teach Maths, language, science, history, geography and even religious studies! And they won’t even notice you are learning!

An image of home made fish fingers in folded white paper packages.
Lucy’s son’s origami packages – design technology never tasted so good!

Responding to one of our posts, Lucy said she made fish fingers with her teenage son. They made origami packages for the finished product – her son didn’t notice they were doing design and technology! They even managed to have a conversation about production costs!

Food, Glorious Food!

The ideas below should give you some thoughts on how to teach your child Science whilst learning some vital life skills, in this case cooking!

You can cook anything, just make sure it is delicious to eat!

Image shows Spaghetti and tomato sauce in a bowl.
Cooking spaghetti allows you to talk about changes in spaghetti texture and how it absorbs the water.

Before you start

Most of our resources don’t need any preparation. But for cooking, it is usually best to make sure you are ready before you invite your child into the kitchen. I always get the ingredients out and make sure I have the right bowls and utensils ready before I start. If I am rummaging around looking for whisks, scales and measuring spoons, our kids will lose interest before we even start.

Choose the right recipe

You probably don’t need me to tell you this but don’t choose anything too complicated. Unless you are a chef in real-life, it is probably best to choose something you would normally cook at home. For example, pizza is great. The dough just needs 4 ingredients (flour, yeast, oil and water) then you can get as creative as you like. Cupcakes are better if your child is impatient, as they cook in just 10-12 minutes.

If you are using a recipe from a book, are there pictures? Is the page clear to read? You might need to think about writing the recipe out to make it easier for your child to understand. You may need to create a recipe sheet using pictures or communication cards to show your child what to do.

Using scales to weigh out ingredients is a great way to learn but often, American recipes that use cups are more accessible. Our daughter loves to use cups and getting the measurements precise by leveling them off with a (blunt) knife.

Just do a little at a time

Don’t forget, when we are teaching our special needs kids at home, we just try one idea at a time. Trying to turn everything into a lesson all at once will just stress you out and your child will protest! Once you get started, it will become natural and you will start to see opportunities for learning in everything you do!

Science and Cooking

ActivityScience Learning ideas

Preparing the cooking utensilsmaterialsLook at the cooking utensils.
Ask your child what materials are they made of (you can give them choice cards, wood, metal and plastic)

Magnetic – get magnets to test if the utensils are magnetic

For extension; you can talk about WHY things are made of those materials. For example:
– The cookie cutter is plastic because plastic is easy to make into different shapes.
– The chopping board is wood because wood is hard and the knife won’t slip on it (due to friction).
– The saucepan is metal so it will conduct/ transfer/ send heat to the food

Opening packetsDesign and technologyLook at the packaging the ingredients come in.
What is the packaging made from? (you can give them choice cards, wood, metal, plastic and paper)

Why is it made from those materials? (because it is light, strong, water proof..)

Why is that shape? (ask your child to stack and stand on the empty packs understand why e..g they are strong [egg carton], they fit better boxes).

Can you design a package for your food like Lucy’s son did? (you could get them to make a cake a make cake box for it to go in or make different packs out of different materials (paper, cardboard, wood and plastic) to test what material and shape is best.
Preparing the ingredientsBiologyAsk your child where each ingredient comes from? (give them choice cards to chose to help them or search on the internet)
e.g. Flour from wheat
Eggs from chickens
Milk from cows
Fruit from trees
Preparing the ingredientsTechLook at the foods like flour, sugar and butter. Talk about what needed to be done before they could be eaten. e.g. flour had to be ground from wheat, sugar has to be extracted from beet or cane, butter is made from cream which is churned to separate the fat from the buttermilk. (look up how they are made on the internet e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWVrNNy6kRs)
Laying out the ingredientsPhysical changesLook at the ingredients and talk about what they look like and how they feel before they have been cooked.

For example;
Dried pasta – it is brittle and hard and becomes soft when cooked (it absorbs water)

Bread is soft and moist but becomes crunchy and dry when you toast it (it loses water)

Making doughBiologyWhen making dough with yeast, you will generally activate the yeast first by mixing it with warm water and a little sugar. When you do this, you wake up the yeast which starts to respire.

After about 10 minutes you can see foam which is the yeast making little bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.

When you have made the dough, take a picture or measure it. Leave it to rise, then measure again or compare it with the first picture. Talk about the yeast making bubbles of gas that make the dough rise.

n.b. yeast are single-celled organisms but don’t worry about cooking them, yeast are similar to fungi, you won’t be hurting any animals!

We hope this gives you a few ideas. If you need any help you please post in our Education Forum here.

Please leave a comment below! Tell us how you got on or what ideas you have for teaching Special Needs kids at home!

About Us

Emma Bara has taught about environmental topics and science for years, running whole school education projects, teacher training, science clubs for primary school kids and GCSE Science tutoring. David Bara has years of experience as a SEN teacher and Senior Lecturer of Special Educational Needs. They are the Co-Founders of WeCanAccess.com.

David and Emma Bara

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