Although the cooking area may not be one of your everyday centers, it is an effective rotational center to share with children during the holiday months.

Setting Up

Arrange your cooking area on a counter or table near an electric outlet. Or if you have limited space, create a "portable" kitchen on a rolling cart. Put appliances on the lower shelf and utensils on the middle shelf, leaving the upper shelf open for work space.

Invite children to brainstorm the materials that they think they will need to create the cooking center. What foods would they like to learn how to make, and what will be required to make them? Record their ideas on chart paper. Suggest children illustrate their ideas.

Collect or borrow simple small appliances that can substitute for a stove or oven, such as an electric fry pan, hot plate, and toaster oven or small microwave. Items such as a blender or electric mixer can be brought from home as needed. If you do not have a water source nearby, you can use a small basin as a portable sink.

After children have decided on equipment, ask: "What utensils will we need?" You will probably want to have a graduated set of bowls, spatulas measuring and mixing spoons, paper plates-and a lot of paper towels!

Finding Recipes

Encourage children to suggest where they would like to get the information on how to make their selected foods. Children might suggest the library, parents, and friends, as well as cookbooks and recipe cards. Gather the recipes together and display them in the reading-and-writing center.

Activities in the cooking centers can come both from children's investigations and the suggestions you add to expand their experiences. Remember to always use children's interests and questions to inspire the activities you suggest.

Around Your Room

By adding new elements to your established centers and asking some thought-provoking questions, you invite children to expand their knowledge base to see how cooking interacts with other areas of everyday life. Here are a few suggestions:  

Dramatic Play Add grocery store circulars, cookbooks, pads for writing shopping and ingredients lists, and recipe cards for cooking-related literacy activities. Brainstorm with children a cooking-related focus for the dramatic-play center, such as a grocery store, bakery, restaurant, or food court.

Reading-and-Writing Center Have on hand recipe books and cooking- and family celebration-related storybooks for inspiration. Provide examples of illustrated recipe charts for children to "read." Co-create this type of chart for all cooking projects. Furnish a tape recorder for children's dictation of their real and fantastic recipes. Provide paper and art materials for later transcription into books.

Science Center Suggest open-ended activities for cooking explorations. For instance, try a taste test of all the different ways apples are used in cooking and eating: apple juice, cider, sauce, butter, dried apples, even apple cider vinegar! Or compare the appearance, taste, and texture of red, green, and yellow apples. You can also explore bananas: Brainstorm a list of how many different ways you can cook or eat them. What can you do with a frozen banana? Make ice cream! (Put chunks of frozen banana in a blender with just a hint of milk, blend until thick, and eat immediately.) How do bananas taste when they're sliced in circles? Try it and see.