By Laila Weir
At MayaSmart.com, we’re all about supporting parents to raise readers by fostering literacy from day one—and all the days afterwards. Parents are uniquely positioned to help their kids build reading and writing skills that are best developed little by little over many years. Plus, the research shows that caregivers are an absolutely crucial part of the literacy equation.
And a central tenet of the Maya Smart approach to raising readers is helping children learn through what we like to call everyday literacy. This can mean pointing out words on cereal boxes and letters on street signs. It can mean including reading and writing in family travel and road trips, or emphasizing words on kids’ clothes. It can mean working literacy skills into special occasions, to make a celebration like Halloween a reading holiday, for example. And so much more.
In line with this idea, we’ve decided to make it easy to mix reading and writing into another important activity with children: feeding them. Let’s face it, making and serving endless meals and snacks is an ever-present element of parenting. And bringing the kids into the action, by inviting them to cook with us, is both a great activity in its own right and a time-tested way to up the odds they’ll actually eat what we prepare.
So we’ve decided to launch a Read with Me Recipe series of kid-friendly snacks and meals that are super easy to make with kids. And we’re presenting them in a format that’s also easy to read with kids. Think simple words and short sentences that will set your little one up for success. The idea is for you to print out the recipe and then read it with your child as you prepare a simple, frustration-free dish together.
For our first recipe, we present an autumn classic: roasted pumpkin seeds. You can use the seeds from Halloween jack-o-lanterns or Thanksgiving pie pumpkins. They’ll make a yummy snack to keep your little revelers fed, plus model eco-friendly, low-waste living. Just print the recipe below, and then scroll down for tips on using it to help teach your kids to read.
What do you love to cook with your kids? Submit your favorite recipe—or request a recipe you’d love to read (and make) with your kids! We’ll add them to our upcoming Read with Me Recipes. (See how below.)
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Note: This recipe involves using a hot oven. It’s not appropriate for children to complete on their own. Adults should supervise and help with opening the oven and stirring the hot seeds.
- 1 pumpkin
Step 1: Heat the oven to 350 F.
Step: 2 Scoop the seeds out of the pumpkin. Pick the seeds out of the pulp.
Step 3: Dry the seeds. Put them in a bowl.
Step 4: Add a little oil and some salt, garlic, and paprika. Stir well with a spoon.
Step 5: Lay the seeds flat on a baking sheet. Put them in the oven.
Step 6: Check them after 10 minutes. Seeds are done when they are crisp and brown.
Tips for teaching kids to read with recipes:
- Introduce your child to how recipes work. If you’re not sure they know them already, be sure to explain vocabulary like “ingredients” and other cooking terms. (Even though we won’t be reading such complicated words in this recipe, they’re important words to learn.) One of the biggest challenges for beginning readers—and most important oral language underpinnings of literacy—is just knowing and understanding all the words they’ll encounter in print.
- Watch out for specific words in the recipe they may not be familiar with, such as “pulp” and “paprika” in this recipe, and give a simple definition.
- For little ones who aren’t reading much yet, just pointing out what you’re reading and emphasizing a few key words or letters is enough. If you make the recipe again, you can help them find the words you pointed out before.
- Use this as an opportunity to show them punctuation, as well as words and letters. Point to the commas, periods, or other punctuation marks, and explain what they mean.
- If they can’t read the recipe on their own, give them chances for success by asking them about what they do know, gently underscoring key knowledge. E.g., ask, Can you find a letter T? or What letter does this word start with?
- For kids who are reading already, encourage them to read the recipe themselves. If they have trouble, just calmly help them with any words they can’t quite get.
- Bring your patience. Give your child space to read a word (or identify a letter) before you jump in, but be prepared to help if they’re showing signs of frustration.
Submit your and your child’s favorite recipe to firstname.lastname@example.org to get it featured in our Read with Me Recipe series, or comment with a recipe request.
Laila Weir is a trilingual writer, editor, and mother who’s raising and feeding three young readers in California.