April 4, 2008

Harrison County fifth graders stirred, chopped and measured their way to better math and reading skills during Recipe for Reading, a program developed by the Harrison County Extension Homemakers as a way to promote literacy to children.

Harrison County Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent Cheryl Case said in today’s busy society, more and more families are eating at least one of their meals away from home every day.

“Parents are not taking the time, or don’t have the time, to teach cooking skills to their children,” she said. “And so, we have a generation of youth that are not learning to prepare meals.”

The two-day event reached all 250 fifth graders in Harrison County. The students were divided into groups with the task of preparing one of 11 dishes with the help of Homemakers and other volunteers. Through this experience the students learned not only how to read recipes, but also about cooking measurements, kitchen safety and practical living skills. After all the dishes were prepared, the students were able to sample each dish.

“I think it’s real nice because I get to cook with my friends and have fun,” said Ethan Hill, a student at Northside Elementary.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Pam Cunnigham, a fifth grade teacher at Northside Elementary School. “It’s really good for their math skills and reading skills. It just really puts it in a real life situation where they have to apply what they know.”

She said hands-on experiences, like Recipe for Reading, help reinforce the importance of fractions and reading, two things her students are tested on during CATS testing. However, these types of activities can be difficult to do in a classroom with limited space.

This is the second year for the program, which was developed during an Extension Homemaker meeting, where members brainstormed how they could promote literacy to children in a way that would be an enjoyable learning experience. Bonnie Teater, Harrison County extension homemaker, said the program was a natural fit for Homemakers and a way they could share their talents with students.

“We decided to incorporate reading with other skills that we had because we all love to cook; and we all love to read cookbooks; and we all love to double recipes and triple recipes when we have big families,” she said.

The Harrison County Homemakers were able to get the project started through a grant from the Kentucky Extension Homemaker’s Association. They have also received funding from the Kentucky Pork Producers and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association. The Harrison County school system also contributed by purchasing cookbooks and recipe ingredients.

When the project was piloted, only one class from each of the county’s elementary schools could participate. It expanded this year because the schools had a difficult time choosing only one class, and participating teachers felt every student could benefit from the skills the Homemakers were teaching.

“It’s a little bit bigger project, and it’s a little more ambitious and a little bit noisier. But the students are very much on task; so it’s not been a problem,” Teater said.

Homemakers chose recipes that were nutritious and they thought children would like, which can be a task in itself because many children can be picky eaters, Teater said. Through helping with the program, she has learned children are more open to try new foods when they take part in preparing them.

“Last year when we were piloting the program, one of the young boys made the Philly cheese steak sandwich, and he said, ‘I don’t like onions.’ But he couldn’t help himself; he had to try it,” she said. “So he tested that with the onions and went home that night and told his mom, ‘I’ve got to make those for you; you’re going to love them.’”

After the program, the students received a cookbook that contained each of the 11 recipes that were made.

“One of the interesting concepts we’re teaching is made-from-scratch,” Case said. “You don’t have to have a cake mix in order to make a cake. You don’t have to have a box of macaroni and cheese to make macaroni and cheese.”

Tyler Bauer, a student at St. Edward School, said she planned to take the cookbook home and make the recipe she made during the program with her mom.

Sabrina Traylor, a Northside Elementary student, said normally she only cooks meals in the microwave or that come from a box, but she will make the macaroni and cheese recipe that she made during the program if she has the ingredients.

After doing the program twice, Case is confident other counties can easily replicate the program. Case and the Harrison County Homemakers will host a session at the Kentucky Extension Homemaker’s Association state meeting where they will share the project with others.

“We’ve worked out most of the problems and have been able to come up with recipes that the children enjoy making that fit into the food guide pyramid plan for the way they should be eating,” Case said.

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