La panadera y su pinche: Why I cook everyday with my daughter


Most mornings between 7 and 9am and most afternoons between 1 and 3pm you can find me in the kitchen. Little Miss E. right by my side.

My father-in-law, during a recent FaceTime call, which we usually make in the afternoons between the aforementioned window of 1 to 3pm, commented, ¿Y ahora, qué, eres ama de casa? Que siempre que nos llamáis, estás en la cocina. (Translation: “What are you now? A housewife? You’re always in the kitchen when you call us.”)

My answer, yup! E. and I cook everyday together. She loves it, and it helps her learn.

Here’s why I cook everyday:

1. Necessary work – 

First and foremost, I cook every day because we eat everyday. It’s something that has to get done. Since D. works outside the home, the responsibility of preparing dinner mostly falls on me (which is fine by me!). And, I have a choice: cook while E. is asleep, or cook when she’s awake.  I choose the latter. How do you get anything done? You might wonder. Isn’t she pulling tupperware out of the drawer? Yeah, sometimes. But, most times, she is chomping at the bit to help. (More on that below, #3.)

The main reason I wait until E. is awake and around to cooke and bake is because I want her to watch her mother engaged in necessary work, and to eventually join in. What I love about the Montessori (and, Waldorf) philosophy is the belief that young children learn through imitation. They watch our every action; they hear our every word. They want to join the real, adult world, so I want to give my daughter an example of good work. (This is also why I clean and do the laundry while she’s awake, too).

2. The ultimate sensory experience –

According to Montessori philosophy, children ages zero to six learn primarily through their senses; therefore, sensorial activities form a central part of a Montessori learning experience. “The purpose and aim of Sensorial work is for the child to acquire clear, conscious, information and to be able to then make classifications in his environment. Montessori believed that sensorial experiences began at birth. Through his senses, the child studies his environment.” (Source)

You can find a plethora of very helpful Montessori blogs that outline toys and activities to facilitate the use of a child’s senses. Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for DIY versions. And, I regularly consult both for ideas and inspiration. However, sometimes I feel like us parents, particularly moms, are under a strange cultural expectation to provide our children with a “Pinterest-worthy and magical” childhood of fun crafts and engaging activities. I don’t always have the time, money, or energy to create many of the wonderful (let me be clear, I’m not knocking any of those blogs or activities) Montessori sensorial activities.

This is why I love cooking with my daughter. It’s the ultimate, all rolled into one, Montessori sensorial experience!

Sensorial  activities are divided into categories. Cooking appeals to most of the child’s senses. Take a look! (Definitions are taken from the previous source.)

  • Visual Sense – The child learns to perceive differences in size, form, and color. E. and I compare the sizes of our wooden spatulas. She immediately recognizes HER bowl (the smaller, blue, version of my larger yellow one). She loves to watch the specks of yeast drop into the bowl and is fascinated by the massive lump of dough I knead back and forth on the counter.
  • Tactile Sense – The child learns to perceive her world through touch. The dry flour that then moistens as she dumps in water. The stickiness of the dough mixed with yeast and honey. The grittiness of the salt. The smooth, cold surface of the metal bowl. The worn grooves of the wood on the rolling pin.
  • Thermic Sense – The child learns to differentiate temperature by touch. ¡Caliente! As I let her touch the glass measuring cup of hot water. ¡Frio! as she sticks her finger in the cup of milk pulled from the fridge.
  • Baric Sense – The child learns to differentiate the weight of objects. E. enjoys dragging her learning tower around the kitchen, between the sink and the bar.
  • Olfactory Sense – The child learns to differentiate the smells of her world. E. loves to imitate me smelling each ingredient as I pull it out from the cupboard: the sweetness of the honey, the grassy notes of the raw milk, the nuttiness of the olive oil.
  • Gustatory Sense – The child learns to differentiate the tastes of her world. Hands down E.’s favorite part of our bread making routine: taste testing! From start to finish, she’s got this activity perfected: the dry flour, the sticky flour/water paste, the yeasty mixture that follows. It all goes in her mouth (and all over her body)!

3. It’s what my daughter wants –

Above all else, María Montessori implored adult caregivers to “follow the child.” Is the child very interested in animals? Take him to the zoo. Is the child very interested in trucks? Buy her a miniature dump truck. Has the child asked for help tying her shoes? No? Then, wait before offering help.

In the case of E., my observations have lead me to understand that currently, at 22 months, she is far more interested in pushing the blue button on the washing machine, blow drying her hair with me, helping papá put together an IKEA bookshelf, and baking bread instead of playing with her puzzles, legos, and train set.

So, during the hours of 7-9am and 1-3pm, before we head out to the park or to a playdate, E. and I bake bread, cook dinner, or make a snack.

4. Teaches practical life skills –

So, if #3 is the result of my observations, how can I best provide for the learning needs of my daughter? Involve her in what Montessori calls practical life skills: cleaning, organizing, self-care, and work in the kitchen. By constantly modeling, involving her, and practicing these skills at an early age, through repetition she will internalize them and make them a part of her everyday routine.

5. It’s free! –

Need I say more? Nope.

6. Bonding time –

I learned a beautiful song about bread during our two-week visit to a Waldorf school in Madrid this past September. The teachers would sing each child’s name into the song about kneading the bread. Now, I sing it to E.

E- panadera amasa siempre el pan.

Amasa, amasa, amasa siempre el pan.

Mami, su pinche le ayudará.

The bread maker and her assistant.

(The rest of the lyrics are here.)

What everyday routine or special ritual do you enjoy with your children? I’d love to hear from you!

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