When I was a kid, my gawd, did I love summer. All … that … time. I logged many hammock hours reading, and I definitely emphasize that part when I tell my kids about those lazy days of 1980s yore. Secretly, I also played a lot of video games and binged Addams Family re-runs. Like all right-thinking children, I considered summer my sacred break from academic obligation.
Thus the so-called summer slide: school-age kids suffer academic decline over the long vacation. While specific evidence and conclusions vary from study to study, educators and parents know the phenomenon all too well. And it definitely appears that the seasonal academic decline disproportionately affects low-income kids.
However, we can fight back. Educators argue that enriching home activities can help keep kids sharp. The kitchen makes a natural base for hands-on learning that doesn’t even feel like learning. (And with formal Home Ec classes in decline, kids’ culinary knowledge could use a boost, in any case.) At Little Sous, we’re all about brain-building, bond-building kitchen time, designing our Kitchen Academy subscription box to help parents teach kids to cook.
But we also know that when vacation unleashes the kids, any inspiration can help. Here are 10 ideas from our writers, all designed to fire up young brains.
Create a vacation-day food lab—with freaky results! Science can definitely go by the wayside after class dismisses. These three projects teach kids about the transformative power of acid-base reactions (relax: vinegar is really all you need) and the biological magic of yeast (they’re alive!).
Start a kids’ cookbook club. We love to champion cookbooks as a literacy gateway. What better way to smuggle some words into young minds than bringing a school-age squad together to share recipes and socialize? Uh, yeah, it will be loud.
Explain the five tastes, starting with the weirdest one. All you need to stage an explanatory experiment on umami: some soy sauce, some Parmesan, and a whole bunch of metaphors. For older kids, this can spark a fascinating history lesson on umami’s journey to become part of the recognized flavor canon—and maybe a debate about the controversial proposed sixth flavor, Calcium.
Next, create a mini-pizza-palooza, all about flavor experimentation. Pizza sauce makes an ideal medium for discovering how using different ingredients changes the flavor profile of a familiar food. And then you’ll have a bunch of pizza.
Make ice cream in a bag. As the British say, this one does what it says on the tin. With a couple plastic bags, rock salt, and basic ingredients, your kids will literally have their hands full learning the chemistry and physical science behind this mysterious process.
Learn about how heat works in the kitchen. The difference between a boil and a simmer, or a sauté and a sear—these are some of life’s key distinctions. And yet, let’s be honest, many adults could use a refresher course, even as we impart some practical wisdom to the young.
Cook your way to Morocco. Geography, culture, and history don’t have to evaporate in favor of precise knowledge of the Fortnite island map. This project comes with a cool playlist and a relatively simple kitchen itinerary, designed to ignite curiosity about another part of the world.
Build a global spice pantry. Likewise, a simple trip to the spice rack can be an opportunity to encourage kids to expand their mental map of the world.
Get out in the garden. It can sometimes be tough to get kids to try new flavors. But when they grow those flavors themselves, the game changes. Whether you keep it simple (like with peas, the ultimate gateway vegetable) or go for a more robust kitchen garden, this is the season when weather and soil can combine to serve up immediate lessons on botany and culinary culture.
Can together. Seasonal bounty, practical skills, the kind of science your grandparents could love—and it can all end in a fruity fantasia. School is never like this. Maybe it should be!