Following on from yesterday’s post about using the opportunity of lockdown to teach your children key life skills, today’s offering is about the three Fs: food – gently encouraging children to take an increasing responsibility for cooking and growing the food they consume; fire – showing them how to light and manage fires safely; and finances – teaching children the vital skills of budgeting, saving and managing their money effectively.
Baking, Cooking & Growing Food
MrJ loves to bake cakes with the Beans; they produce lots of delicious creations. Just this morning for example, I returned from my run at 8am to find Bean9 making lime and orange ice cream with his Daddy! Later, Bean10 baked a delicious-looking coconut cake to accompany the ice cream for a tasty (if a little calorific) pudding for lunch today. It’s our 17-year wedding anniversary today, so the children wanted to treat us to something special.
But rarely however, do they get involved with cooking the main meals. This is totally my fault, in that I’m quick at bashing out our tried and tested recipes and I don’t make much mess in the process… I’ve therefore been reluctant to share this mundane task with the Beans on the basis that I know it’ll involve a lot more time and effort for me in the short term (there’s nothing like a blog for admitting your failings!). But I’ve started to try and put this situation right. They should know how to cook healthy meals.
So, I decided to teach them each two recipes – Thai chicken soup and sausage pasta bake for Bean9, cottage pie and beef stew for Bean10. They’ve been cooking these dishes each week for three weeks now, with a decreasing amount of supervision, and we’ll keep doing them until they feel confident making them completely by themselves (yes, the lack of menu variation is a little boring, but I think it’ll pay dividends in the long run).
Bean10 loves it, beetling happily around the kitchen. She is practically completely independent in these two dishes now and is keen to learn more. Bean9 was less excited at the prospect initially, but when he realised it could count towards a Cub’s badge, he was much more enthusiastic!
The biggest challenge for me has been to patiently stand back and replace instructions with open ended questions, like, “Now the pasta is cooking, do you remember what the next step was?” rather than “You need to get the sausages under the grill!” Letting them make mistakes, like burning the pasta (yep, it happened!), is a key part of the learning process (obviously provided it doesn’t cause a real hazard or ruin your pans!). I’ve personally learned through experience that we need to leave at least twice (if not three times) as long to make the dishes and preferably, do all the preparation (such as vegetable chopping and cheese grating) in advance. If we’ve all hit that “hangry” point, it doesn’t make for a relaxed learning environment! Bean9’s culinary skills are slowly improving each week and he’s incredibly proud of each of his creations.
Bean10 is eager to do more, not only wanting to learn how to cook and find new, healthy recipes, but also to help me plan the weekly menus and write the shopping lists. Her intention is to do it all herself ultimately. I think with Bean9, we might be looking at more baby steps, which is totally fine!
If you have space in the garden, growing their own food is a fantastic activity to do together. We often start this in a half-hearted way, but never fully follow through! This year, they’re much more engaged and are growing a whole range of vegetables and herbs, attentively watering them every day, thinning and transplanting where needed, and supporting growing plants with stakes. They delight daily in seeing how much they’ve grown overnight and are already enjoying the fresh, crisp tastes of their homegrown lettuce and herbs (neither of which they would normally eat!). Ever the author, Bean10 has even started writing her own gardening diary.
There is nothing MrJ likes more than lighting a fire in the woods and spending the day “burning stuff”, playing games, chatting, whittling and reading around our heat source together. Ideally for him, it also involves cooking a one pot dish in our Dutch oven over said fire, which the children help with. Or just toasting marshmallows or cooking simple puddings, such as bananas, stuffed with chocolate, or apples de-cored and filled with raisins and brown sugar, both to be wrapped in tinfoil and cooked in the embers of the fire. There is something very satisfying about cooking over an open fire, which massively appeals to children.
As a consequence of this and the fact that our house is old and very cold in the winter, requiring multiple fires to be lit, our children have known how to light fires from a very early age, and as a result are very sensible around fire. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to do the same – it’s definitely one of those fun life skills to learn together.
Budgeting & Money Management
Teaching children to save, budget and manage their money well is an essential life skill. There are some simple ways that you can start helping them develop these skills from home.
Earn and Manage Their Own Money
Every family is different here, but for us, helping out with simple chores such as cleaning, cooking and laundry is something we all have to do. But, for those bigger jobs, such as cleaning the car or deep cleaning a whole room, we might offer a small financial reward. In addition to this, they receive some money for birthdays and Christmas from kind relatives.
Talk to them about what they’re going to spend their money on. Discuss and weigh up the various options together, pointing out the pros and cons of each. Helping them to envisage the longer-term picture is important for younger children. Bean9 has a winter birthday and has historically always spent all his birthday and Christmas money soon after the events, leaving him nothing for special purchases of sports items in the summer (there are many he’d like!). We’ve let him make his own mistakes in the past and chatted about what he could do differently. Now, he diligently saves his money until there’s something he really wants.
If they’re looking to purchase an item, show them how to shop smartly by first choosing the best value option, pointing out that the cheapest isn’t always best (I still make this mistake with DIY tools and then when I’m half way through a job and the tool starts to fall apart, I wish I’d spent a little bit more on a higher quality one). Then, teach them to compare prices across various online shops to find the cheapest price for the desired item, factoring in delivery charges and returns policies.
Online Weekly Food Shop
As I mentioned above, Bean10 is keen to plan the weekly menus and write the shopping list. I’m pretty sure though that she wouldn’t have a good idea of how much different food items cost. Normally, I would suggest taking them to the shops with you, but in lockdown, doing the same online would be just as effective. Even if you can’t get a delivery slot at the moment, it would be a very worthwhile exercise to use an online grocery store website to work out the cost of a weekly shop, or even for just one meal. Set them a budget and see if they can work within this, showing them how to compare the costs between similar items, and getting them to prioritise the most essential items if they can’t afford everything.
For older children, open a savings account, explain about compound interest and show them how their money can increase over time. Highlight the differences between short-term investments, from which they can remove their money at any time, but which would have a lower interest rate than that of a longer-term investment, in which your money has to remain for a specified time period.
Explain the concept of taxes and discuss how those taxes are spent by the government. Teach them how mortgages work, along with the need for an initial deposit, and if you feel comfortable, show them your current position, including how long it will take to pay off your mortgage. Together, you could even work out if you overpaid on your monthly payments by a certain amount, how much money you could save in the long-term. If you’re renting, discuss how much rent accounts for of the total budget each month. Along these lines, you could also research together how much a car, or their university education is likely to cost. And finally, if you’re feeling especially brave, you could even demonstrate how the stock market works, invest in a small number of shares in a company and track their progress.
Demonstrate the importance of donating money to charity from an early age. Aside from the day to day support we offer to people raising money for important causes, we also have an annual budget for charitable donations. At the start of each year, we discuss which charities we’d like to use this budget for, researching various options. Include your children in these discussions and ask their opinions. They could also work on a bigger project to raise money for a cause they’re particularly passionate about. For example, this year, our walking/cycling/running/kayaking 732 miles challenge is to raise money for War Child.
Developing these skills throughout childhood should help form adults with a healthy diet, who cook meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients from their gardens, rather than relying on fast food or processed alternatives; who can enjoy the primal joy of lighting a good fire; and who are able to use their income well, not overspending or falling into financial difficulties. Skills probably more important than the correct use of a fronted adverbial!
Tomorrow’s post will be about care of the home and planning your leisure time. See you then!