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Kitchen Unit Studies

How to Start Unit Studies in the Kitchen

By Peggy Baron

Unit Studies are such a great way to really tailor learning to your children’s interests and ability levels, but sometimes you’re stumped for ideas and you want something new and now. How about starting in the kitchen… with a recipe?

Here is an example of picking a recipe to start off your Unit Study. The recipe is the Tollhouse Cookie recipe, and yes, I picked this recipe because I have a sweet tooth.

Most people have heard the story about how the Tollhouse Cookie recipe got its start. Historians credit the Massachusetts innkeeper, Ruth Wakefield, with inventing it in 1930. One version says she thought chunks of chocolate added to the dough would melt into the dough but they didn’t. Another version states that the vibration of her mixer caused a chocolate bar to fall off the shelf into the dough and break into chunks. Either way, Nestle eventually acquired the recipe, and the rest is American history.

So where do you go with that? Here are several possibilities, and you and your kids can decide which directions to take.

1. Investigate the different stories about the origins of the chocolate chip cookie and gather any evidence to help decide which version of the story is most likely correct.

2. Research the year 1930. What were the 1930s like? What important events were happening around the world then? Who was the US President at that time? What did people wear? What other foods were popular then? What kind of jobs did they have in the area of Whitman, Massachusetts? Mode of transportation most commonly used in 1930? Get in as deep as you want on any of these.

3. What is an inn? What was its importance then? What is the history of the inn in our country?

4. Explore Massachusetts. Find it on the US map. Make your own map of Massachusetts and include topographical items. Lakes, mountains, roads, cities, industry can go on the map. Make charts of demographics. Create math story problems involving the mileage from Ruth Wakefield’s town to your town.

5. Learn why the chocolate stayed in chunks and didn’t melt when baked.

6. Investigate how the chocolate chunks eventually became chocolate chips. Did Nestle develop the chocolate chip as we know it today? Do a time line of the history of the chocolate chip.

7. When was the recipe bought by Nestle? How was it marketed by Nestle in the 1930s? Create ads that might have appeared in newspapers or magazines back then.

8. Creative kids can write and act out a play of how they think the discovery happened.

9. Of course, make some chocolate chip cookies! Kids can create their own original recipe and figure out how to turn their wonderful cookie into a business. How would they market it? Internet? Farmers Market? Bake Contests?

10. Pass out the cookies and do a poll on the number of chocolate chips in each cookie. Make a bar graph of the results. Figure out the most, the least, the mean, the average, etc.

These are examples of how to springboard a single recipe into unit studies. Many, many recipes can work. Take a look at your beef stroganoff recipe which was created for, and named after, a Russian count in the 19th century. Your favorite recipe for pizza can be a popular choice with the kids – and just think where you can go with that!

Peggy Baron cooks with her kids in Colorado, and ran Cookin’ Kids, a website devoted to helping parents and kids have fun together in the kitchen. The website is no longer available. Peggy is the editor of the popular Cookin’ Kids Newsletter, a bi-monthly newsletter with fun facts, recipes, jokes, games, cooking safety, and cooking terms wrapped around different themes.

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