This is my third year in the kitchen with kids. Like many kids I teach, I dread the first days of class. Thankfully, I’m beyond the fear of the unknown or strangers. Nor is it a fear of developing a new curriculum– all new recipes every year is a challenge.

It is the kids I fear– Especially the kindergartners.

Sounds crazy, I know. At the beginning of the year they are so fresh and green. To use another garden/ cooking pun– as delicate as pea shoots. They are small: Some (literally) can’t figure out how to sit on a stool; cannot reach the sink even while standing on the super step; cannot grasp a full size carrot! How will we work?! How will we wash hands?! How will we shred carrots!? Their hands so unused to kitchen tasks. Their cutting strength ends around strawberry. I start freaking out.

Their imaginative minds haven’t yet been molded to take directions: “When we wash our hands they cannot go into our mouths! Does everyone understand?” Nods of affirmation then all hands thrust into the mouth. Halfway into class we’re washing our hands for the fifth time.

But it is around the third week hope starts shining through. Yes, they still ask when we will make cookies. Someone is always unhappy with everything we make– even when it’s pizza:

“I hate cheese.”
Are you human
?! I think, but encouragingly respond: “Maybe you’ve just been eating the wrong kind of cheese.”

Around this time is when I find those pea shoots are turning into sponges. I no longer have to repeat where the cutting boards or aprons are located. When I say “we’re done cutting” pavlovian instinct takes them out of their chairs and over to the dish washer. Amazing. It gives me encouragement– maybe we’re really learning something.

We have no more breakdowns over trying the food we cook. This can sound like the cruelest rule: Try everything. But at this age one child not trying a dish that might is unfamiliar multiplies into a whole class of food made that no one will touch. Remember: You don’t have to like it.

Take it slow. Don’t get too excited because we still like to wave knives dangerously into the air, or suck on a few fingers when we think no one notices.

The crowning moment was this past week. It almost makes knife waving okay. Some of my little pea shoots have gotten so big.

We are making a dough for the first time this year and first graders who took my class last year perk up at the word knead. (Seriously, how many high schoolers can tell you what that means?!) “We have to knead this dough now.” I say. As I pick up a bowl to demonstrate what I mean hands shoot into the air: “I’ll show! I’ll do it!”

And with perfect technique first graders are showing their kindergarten classmates how to fold, push, rotate, fold, push, rotate…

 

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