Pasta is always a big hit with little kids. Variously shaped dried pastas can be counted, compared, sorted, patterned, weighed and measured. And preparing a pasta recipe can open the door for kids to learn fractions, sequence, measurement, and more. What follow are ideas for both learning and eating — mangia!
Weigh it! Encourage your child to make a mathematical estimation by asking: Which weighs more, dry or wet pasta? Before actually weighing it to see, ask your child to hold about ten wet pieces of pasta in one hand and ten dry pieces in the other. Which feels heavier? Then get out a balance scale and check out his estimation. What makes one piece of pasta heavier than the other?
Sort and classify: Put a wide assortment of different sizes, shapes, and colors of pasta in a bowl. Invite your child to examine and explore the sizes and shapes, encouraging her to tell you about what she notices. Use the important math vocabulary words of big, medium, small, and even tiny. You can explore the seriation of sizes by creating a sequence or line of pastas from small to smaller to smallest. You will be teaching important skills that help your child understand how numbers increase and decrease in value in a number line.
Next try asking your child how many different ways can you group the shapes and colors together. Provide a muffin tin or egg carton so she can sort the pastas by category. Encourage her to try many different ways to sort, based on color, shape and size.
Pasta pattern necklaces: Making a pasta pattern necklace invites your child to use mathematical patterning skills as he strings the different shapes in a repeating pattern (such as long, long, short; long, long, short) onto yarn. When he begins to understand the predictability of patterns, he can then relate this understanding to the beginning recognition of how numbers follow a pattern of tens. This activity is great small muscle practice, too! He is using the same small muscle skills that will help him learn how to hold a pencil and write her numbers.
Read and eat: While you enjoy one of the delicious pasta dishes below, or one of your own creation, try reading a noodle-themed storybook such as Strega Nona, by Tomie De Paola; Alice in Pasta Land (A Math Adventure), by Alexandra Wright; or More Spaghetti, I Say! by Rita Golden Gelman.
Dyed Pasta (for learning, not eating!)
- In a zipper plastic bag, mix 1 tsp. rubbing alcohol with a few drops of food coloring. Use a different bag for each color you want to make.
- Add different shapes of pasta.
- Zip closed and shake to make colorful pasta shapes.
- Spread on paper towels to dry.
Wagon Wheels with Veggie Sauce
The best thing about hot pasta is that it can "cook" its own sauce. Here is a quick stir-in sauce that will give your child a good dose of fresh vegetables.
What you need:
- 6 chopped fresh tomatoes plus half a cup of water, or 1 large can of chopped tomatoes
- a handful of fresh basil leaves or 1 tbsp. dried basil
- a handful of fresh parsley or 1 tbsp. dried parsley
- 6 baby carrots
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 oz. cooked wagon wheels
- Grated parmesan or romano cheese (optional)
What to do:
- Invite your child to count out 6 tomatoes. Put them in a line from largest to smallest. She can wash the tomatoes and you can chop.
- Add ½ cup water to the chopped tomatoes and place in food processor. Or, if you are using canned tomatoes, put them (undrained) in a blender without adding water.
- Ask your child to estimate how many basil leaves and/or parsley stems she can pick up in one handful! Write down the number and then have her pick up her handful and count how many she actually got. Add to food processor.
- Have your child count out 5 baby carrots and add to food processor.
- Get out the measuring spoons and ask your child to notice the difference between the teaspoon and the half-teaspoon. Which is biggest? Help her measure 2 teaspoons of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt and put in the food processor.
- Puree all until smooth.
- Stir into hot, cooked wagon wheels and serve with optional grated cheese.
Peanut Butter Lovers' Noodles
Most children love peanut butter. Here is a simple and delicious sauce that your child can help create in the blender. Make it as mild or spicy as you like by modifying the amount of cayenne pepper and garlic you use. This is a great way to introduce your child to Japanese soba noodles. They have a unique, nutty flavor that kids usually love!
What you need:
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter
- ½ cup hot water
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp. garlic, crushed
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp. oil
- 8 oz. cooked soba noodles or spaghetti
What to do:
- Invite your child to observe the lines on a measuring cup. Use water to introduce fractions by showing her how two quarter cups of water make a half cup. In an empty cup, ask him to help you measure out the peanut butter and hot water.
- Mix together in a blender at low speed.
- Help your child measure and count out the rest of the ingredients, except the noodles, and blend until smooth.
- Serve on warm soba noodles or spaghetti.