Early Childhood Hub

Supporting young children’s PSED through cookery

Written By: Lucy Parker
6 min read
Dr Lucy Parker, Deputy Headteacher, Ludwick Nursery School, UK

This case study focuses on the implementation of cookery as a core part of our Early Years curriculum and how it has developed into a learning experience that has had a significant impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development (PSED).

Ludwick is a large, maintained nursery school with up to 200 children on roll. The school has a high number of children with SEND (20 per cent) and, in relation to other schools in the locality, a high number of children who are eligible for EYPP (31 per cent), as well as catering for 32 children who are eligible for two-year-old funding in our preschool. The school caters for a diverse community with approximately 14 different languages spoken.

Ludwick follows a curriculum based on Froebelian principles. Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) was the founder of the kindergarten and a pioneer of early education. His approach and principles continue to influence mainstream Early Years practice today. He advocated for children engaging with nature and first-hand experiences, as well as promoting the importance of play. Access to first-hand experiences, or ‘occupations’ as Froebel called them, is an important part of our offer. McCormick (2012, p. 145) states that ‘Cooking is one of Froebel’s Occupations which relates to real life, involves the child in real and practical work, encourages motivation, develops independence and promotes cross-curricular learning.’

As McCormick (2012) highlights, cookery plays an important role in teaching and learning, and when we started to develop our cookery curriculum, we were aware that participating in an active, engaging first-hand experience such as cookery would have a positive impact on the children’s development. Now, having cookery as a well-established part of our daily curriculum, what has been significant is the positive impact that cooking and sharing food together have had on the children’s PSED.

In the Early Years, PSED rightly has high priority. The statutory framework highlights this by stating that ‘personal, social and emotional development (PSED) is crucial for children to lead healthy and happy lives, and is fundamental to their cognitive development’ (DfE, 2021, p. 8). With children joining Early Years settings having spent a significant part of their lives living through a pandemic, offering first-hand experiences such as cookery and supporting PSED seem even more important now than ever.

Promoting independence

Developing a cookery curriculum in a large setting certainly has not happened overnight, and it took a number of years to establish a consistent approach, develop a range of recipes and recipe cards and also deal with organisational challenges such as rotas, purchasing ingredients and setting up a cookery area. We wanted cookery to be active and engaging and to develop children’s independence, and therefore a consistent approach was important. For our setting, we have found that cooking in small groups (10 children or less) and providing children with their own bowl and utensils allow all children to be actively engaged but still have the shared experience of cooking alongside each other and sharing ingredients. Ingredients are carefully prepared so that children can access them independently, and simple recipe cards, which the children can follow by measuring ingredients in spoonfuls, provide further opportunities for independence. Children are offered opportunities for risk and challenge, such as learning how to cut safely with a sharp knife and enjoying the challenge of learning how to crack an egg. These experiences promote high expectations for all children, and through developing children’s independence, high levels of self-esteem and involvement are supported.

Community connections

Cooking and sharing food together is a universal experience, and developing cooking has enhanced the community connections within the school. Cooking in a small group with familiar adults and children creates strong connections. Providing opportunities to share food that has been made together further strengthens these connections, and eating food in a ‘family-style’ way supports quality interactions with each other. Our nurture group, which was established in 2016, bases a significant part of their routine on cooking and sharing food together, as this offers opportunities to develop trusting and respectful relationships. The school supports a number of children with a high level of SEND need, and it’s important that cookery is an inclusive experience. In order to have a positive cookery experience, children with additional needs may need a more bespoke approach such as cooking in smaller groups or on a one-to-one basis.

The children have the opportunity to take their cooking home to share with their families, supporting positive home–school links. Recipe cards are also shared. During lockdown and in periods of remote learning, offering families ingredients and recipe cards so that they could cook together at home was positively received. Prior to lockdown, families were invited in to join in with family cooking sessions. Parents reported that they enjoyed coming in to spend time with their children, doing something practical. Reintroducing these sessions is definitely something that will be planned in the near future.

Cookery provides opportunities to learn about different cultures, and sharing and eating food together is an important part of festivals and special occasions. This is an area that we want to further develop, and we are about to start a cookery project funded by the Froebel Trust that will help us to further develop our community connections through cookery. We hope that this project will allow us to link up with our families through sharing recipes and cooking together, in order to create greater diversity through our cookery, and to ultimately create a cookery book that is representative of our community.

Connecting learning

If learning is relevant and engaging for children and learning experiences link together, then children will display high levels of motivation and enthusiasm for learning. As our cookery curriculum developed, we realised that it was having a positive impact on other experiences that we were offering to the children, which also supported their PSED. With the development of cooking inside, we also started to develop cookery outside. For example, a BBQ game outside prompted staff to set up a real BBQ experience for the children. We have tried cooking a wider range of food in our fire pit area, such as vegetable soup. Trips to the local shops have been planned to buy cookery ingredients, and children have grown their own vegetables. Children have also displayed high levels of involvement in their play, where they have drawn on their cooking experiences. Tovey (2017) highlights this link and suggests that rich first-hand experiences impact positively on play. We have observed this many times – for example, mud soup being made in the mud kitchen, cakes being made in the clay area and various imaginative play opportunities happening at the playdough table.

Top tips for cooking

It takes time to embed a change into your curriculum, so take little steps and do not rush! Below are some ‘top tips’ adapted from the pamphlet ‘Cooking with young children’ (Denton and Parker, 2019):

  1. Being organised before you start cooking will help your cookery session to run smoothly. Set up the space to cook in an organised and inviting way. Each child should have a bowl and a work space. A recipe can be displayed clearly for children to see, involving them in what they will be making.

 

  1. Cooking with a small group of children makes the experience valuable and engaging. Adults have time to interact and support children effectively. Time can be taken to discuss the recipe and explore the ingredients, meaning that cookery is a rich learning experience. Think about the needs and interests of your cohort in order to help you to decide on how many children to have in a cookery group.

 

  1. Keep recipes simple so that children can master basic skills such as mixing, peeling, grating and chopping. Recipes can be adapted so that children can measure in spoonfuls, which increases independence, counting and reading skills. Consider how your children can be involved in creating recipes and helping to decide what to cook.

 

  1. Allow plenty of time for cooking. This means that the experience is not rushed. Children can take their time to follow the steps in a recipe, but also appreciate the textures and changes that occur as they cook.

 

  1. Include children in all elements of the cooking experience and give them ownership over what they cook. They should have the opportunity to safely observe the food going into the oven to be cooked, but also tidy away after themselves. Children can help with sweeping, washing up and putting equipment away.

 

  1. Consider how cooking links to the rest of the curriculum. Observe children as they play and be ready to offer them opportunities to make meaningful connections with their cookery experience – for example, representing their cooking in the home corner or at the playdough area. Also consider how you can link in seasonal themes and books to your cooking.
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