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Cooked as Curriculum: History, Science, Health, Geography, and Politics


As the kids start to get older I'm putting a lot of energy into finding excellent resources to teach my kids that are affordable and interesting outside of picture books. Cooked, a 4-part series by Michael Pollan on Netflix, is one of those resources. 

As an American in Canada, I sometimes feel a bit snobbish turning my nose down at the options found here. My pitiful, first-world-problem attitude of 'there's nothing on this Netflix'! led me to this series, which I'd never pick in a million years if I could watch Parenthood, Nashville, and New Girl back to back. Such is life, and I'm glad, because watching this--a show I was only marginally interested in--became a full supply of conversation between myself and my kids when we watched all four parts together. 

I own one of Michael Pollan's foodie books, but I haven't read it yet. This documentary series is four parts named after elements used in or with cooking: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. I will say, the first part of the Fire episode was fairly boring; both my kids and I loosing interest, but the other three were so fascinating.  
As my kids and I were watching these episodes together, so many questions about history, food culture, farming and more came to the surface. We could just hit pause for a few minutes while we had a brief discussion about it (or lengthy-I think 20 minutes was our longest) and then go back to watching more. 

Now, how does one use these as home school or after-school curriculum? Well here are a few ideas:

*Conversations:  Honestly, the best way to use this series is to talk with your kids about what you're all learning. Our conversations with my kids being ages 7 & 8 included topics like the following: poverty & obesity, fast food vs. home cooking, moderation, historically who cooks in different cultures, and how we can use food as activism (i.e. shopping locally from farmers, with in season produce, local meat and dairy sources). Conversations may not be qualifiers for a letter grade, but they are valuable learning tools and shouldn't be discounted. 

*Research: A child might get really hooked on one of the topics mentioned in Cooked, just like I was fascinated with the bacteria/mold that created perfect French cheese in the nunnery! If your kid wants to know more about x, y, or z, why not guide them to the kid search engine, Kiddle.co, and let them have at it. This search engine filters for kids, so no risk in letting them tool around looking for more information about their interests. Do you see a project in their future? 

*Cooking:  This one is very obvious. Get in the kitchen and cook with your kids! Bake bread (air), have them help you make veggie kabobs on the bbq now that it's summer (fire), do an easy cheese experiment (earth), and show your kids how to independently make pasta with boiling (water). 

*Presentation or Science Experiment: Test your science knowledge with what types of chemical reactions are found when ingredients are heated up or mixed together. I know my son is especially fascinated with science topics and The Science of Cooking book/cookbook might be a great resource for those who want to try their theories in the kitchen. Many homeschooling families favor presentations (a la science fair or classical conversations) and this series has a plethora of ideas and information to elicit some sort of presentation project!

*Family Food Traditions: Celebrating within your own family and ethnic food traditions are important not only for unity and memories, but paired with this series can mean even more to your kids after they learn the whys behind the kinds of foods that are always on the holiday table! "This is where we're from, so we celebrate with these" ties them to a background that is bigger than themselves. Food traditions are unique and important all around the globe. 

*Mapping: This series goes all over the globe to identify seasonal foods (creating, growing, or raising) and a fun idea would be to write down every country they visit and map it, alongside what they're making for dinner. A few examples from the show would be: Morocco, France, India, New Zealand, and United States. There are a lot more. 

In my best homeschooling days, I can pinpoint where so many of these resources could be endlessly inspiring for projects, activities, and learning opportunities (on my worst I'm checking what school we're closest to!), but this was definitely a 'great homeschooling day' for us, when we found this series. I hope you and your kids enjoy it as much as we did!

***These all cover subjects such as socials + geography (people, family systems, places, season/local food grown), health/career(cooking, work choices), science (processes within cooking including air, water, fire, earth as natural resources, chemical reactions, plants & animals as food, ecosystems and weather), and math (recipe following including time, measurements, multiplication). ****

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