Cooking Exploration


This will provide a general outline for how to explore cooking in your program. These plans are purposely open-ended to allow you to make choices that are best for the ages, personalities, and needs of the children in your care. For example, this is a topic that lends itself well to family and community involvement-- what special food traditions and recipes do your families have? are there any local stores or restaurants that you could visit during the month? what are the dietary restrictions of your kids?

Cooking touches on pretty much every aspect of a child's development:

  • Fine motor and hand-eye coordination (measuring and adding ingredients, stirring, using utensils)
  • Science (making predictions and observations, chemical reactions)
  • Math (counting and one-to-one correspondence, order of operations, making comparisons, positional language)
  • Literacy (understanding words carry meaning, exploring reading and writing, building vocabulary)
  • Cognitive (following instructions, problem solving, memory)
  • Sensory (in particular smelling and tasting things)
  • Social-Emotional (turn-taking, expressing likes and dislikes)


  • Conversation ideas and group activities (relevant for circle time, morning meeting, or other small group time)

The goals of these times are to give kids a chance to show you what they know and are thinking about, and to get hands-on with the topic. If you have younger children, these may be very quick conversations, or it may be easier to do these activities while they're sitting in booster seats/high chairs at the table

  • Free play ideas

You will notice that the Free Play ideas are often repetitive. This is by design. Kids often require more than one opportunity to engage in an activity. It will allow you to observe their play and notice how it changes over time. Ask yourself what new materials you can introduce to build on what they're doing. For example, there will be suggestions for the dramatic play area. Your kids may make other requests (ex: "I'm a waiter and I need a clipboard so I can write down orders"). Add in new play materials based on their interests and what you have available in your program. And just a reminder that not every activity has to fit with the theme of cooking. Your kids may naturally bring the cooking exploration into many aspects of their play, but there is no need to force it.

  • Book suggestions

You are not required to buy or borrow these books, but sometimes it's helpful to have specific titles in mind. The goal is to have a mix of fiction and non-fiction books available for story times as well as free-reading.

  • Recipes

You may want to cook different recipes based on the dietary restrictions and preferences of the kids in your program, but these are just sample ideas.

  • External Resources

Templates for parent communication as well as resources from outside domain experts will allow you to expand the walls of your classroom.


While this has content for four weeks of exploration, you may find that your kids lose interest sooner. Or maybe they love it so much they want to keep going beyond February. Remember: just because a month ends does not mean we have to change what we're studying. Think of this is a starting point, and allow the interests of your children to guide you the rest of the way.

How to Prepare for the Month

Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie de Paola

Book Suggestions

We have pulled together a list of possible book titles you might want to include this month. These are just suggestions based on the theme, so feel free to pick and choose based on what you have available and what makes sense for your kids.

  • Add some books to your reading corner right away, but feel free to keep some tucked away for group story time.
  • Once you've read them to the whole group you can add them to your book shelf for kids to revisit.
  • You may also end up reading the same book multiple times. This is great and highly encouraged! You can work on things like memory and prediction while re-reading books, as well as tie the content to other things you are doing together.

Communicate With Parents

Here is a sample parent letter (or email!) you can send out to your families as you prepare for the exploration. Download the file and update the contents to your specific program and families.

Gather Materials

  • Decide on recipes you would like to cook and buy ingredients
    • Rebus recipes included in the unit are scrambled eggs and pancakes
    • You don't necessarily need to decide this in advance, you can also see what your kids are interested in making or ideas your parents have
  • Gather cooking-related objects you want to incorporate into play, like:
    • Cooking utensils the kids can play with
    • Sample menus from local businesses
    • Cooking apparel like aprons and oven mitts, etc
    • Sensory options like play dough, sand, or water

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do we cook?
  • What do we use to cook?
  • What do you like to eat?
  • Can we try new foods?

Guiding Questions:

  • What is a recipe?
  • Why do we need a recipe?
  • What kind of recipes should we follow?
  • Does your family have any special recipes or traditions for food?

Guiding Questions:

  • Have you ever eaten at a restaurant?
  • What's different about eating in a restaurant instead of eating at home?
  • Who works in a restaurant?

Guiding Questions:

  • What does it mean to "eat healthy"?
  • Why is it important to eat healthy?
  • What else do we need to do to be healthy?