I was chatting with a homeschooling friend a few days ago about how we try to interest our children in the subjects that we were least happy with (okay, we hated) when we were in school. She mentioned that her daughter wasn’t thrilled with math and fractions were a bit of a hurdle. Bella has really seemed to understand fractions, and it is mostly due to her love of cooking. I’ve had the pictures for this post (and the general idea for a while), so now seemed as good of a time as ever to write.
My mother-in-law gave me a family cookbook as a Christmas gift a few years back. The recipes are all in page protectors, so when it’s time to make one of her recipes, I call Bella over, grab a dry-erase marker, and plan on skipping our math and reading lesson for the day. Say WHAT?! Yes, we skip them. Bella reads the ingredient list and directions (reading lesson) and we usually double or triple recipes (math).
Using a dry erase marker, Bella crosses off ingredients from our list as we add them to the bowl. She adds, multiplies, and divides as needed. Each arithmetic problem she calculates MUST be written in her math notebook. We also calculate some problems many ways.
For example, if our recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of flour and we are making a double batch, she would write 1 1/2 + 1 1/2 = 3 or 1 1/2 x 2 = 3. Since I don’t like making things easy (I’m mean!) I only give her 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 cup measuring cups. I choose one size (let’s say 1/3 cup) and ask her how many of that size we need to have 3 whole cups. 3 cups divided by 1/3 cup is 9 OR there are (3) 1/3 cups in each whole, and since we need 3 whole, 3 x 3=9 OR 3 + 3 + 3 = 9.
If the recipe calls for soured milk, she learns that 1 cup of milk soured = 1 tablespoon of vinegar and enough milk added to equal one cup …but what if I needed 3 cups of soured milk? How much vinegar then? What if I needed 1/2 cup soured milk?
Sometimes, I just let her play with flour, sugar, or water and the measuring cups. It solidifies in her mind that (3) 1/3 cup measuring cups makes 1 whole cup, (4) 1/4 cup measuring cups make 1 whole and (2) 1/4 cup measuring cups make 1/2 cup, etc. I can not claim brilliance in using this method of fraction practice; it happened by accident one day when we were cooking.
I don’t like dry math. The math workbooks with rows and columns of problems just don’t make sense to me; my cookbooks don’t come with the already figured numbers for halving, doubling, or tripling a recipe. I want my children to learn how to apply mathematics in life. I absolutely DO give them math problems with no “story” behind them, but they need to be able to figure the steps to know the answers to problems that they will find in real situations.
Bella has now made muffins completely by herself, with just my help with putting them in and taking them out of the oven. I even played mean mom (wow, I am tough more often than I realized…) and gave her four different flours with the directions to use each one once and two a second time to reach a total of 3 cups. I made it slightly easier by giving her the choice between the 1/2 cup and 1/3 cup measuring cups.
I know that I will likely have to change my method for each child, but learning fractions by cooking has worked for Bella.