Learning Through Mortar and Pestle Play
Welcome to the first in our series of posts on learning through play. The topic this week is playing with a mortar and pestle. This isn’t about your little one becoming the next Junior Masterchef or Nobel scientist, but using a trusty kitchen utensil to spark curiosity, help develop mental and physical skills and lastly and most importantly – encourage your child to learn while having fun.
Tools at Play
The concept of a tool, starting with something as simple as a rock, has shaped our evolution as humans. So it makes perfect sense that on a micro level tools will help the evolution of your child. In fact, it’s already in your child’s DNA to pick up and engage with a tool. You can buy a cheap unbreakable plastic or wooden mortar and pestle set from a discount store or dollar shop. Let the fun begin.
The readily available is always the best ingredients for children learning through play. That’s because using what is in the immediate environment or household is particularly powerful for the development of your child’s resourcefulness. Grab anything non-toxic from the garden that can be mashed. Dry leaves, seeds, and bark make great material for a mortar and pestle. Flowers, herbs and grasses release aromas when ground that will engage the olfactory senses. A particularly rewarding activity for your preschooler is dissecting and grinding a sunflower. Buy a few stems or, better still, plant some seeds in the garden with your child’s help, and watch them grow. Then pick them once the bloom has died and turn it into the perfect mortar and pestle game. It’s worth noting that adding a gardening element to play is considered a critical component in National Childcare Accreditation Council guidelines. Sunflowers grow on a single stem and therefore provide an easily observed microcosm of plant life. The process will help your child understand the process and value of living things.
Sparking a natural curiosity in measurement can occur with the introduction of measuring equipment to the mortar and pestle game. Scales, measuring cups and spoons will expose children to the idea of quantity and you will likely find them mimicking your own behaviour of measuring in the kitchen. Offering different quantities of each item to be included in the mortar and pestle game as well as a range of different sized vessels will offer the child lots of options and therefore more opportunity to learn and have fun. With measuring items you can also introduce liquids that can be combined with the material that has been ground in the mortar. For example, combining lavender flowers or rose petals with water makes perfume. Compare sizes of item being measured and make reference to terms such as size and weight.
Food for Play
It may seem like the obvious choice, but using items from the pantry cupboard will be just as enjoyable for your child as non-food items. For your ingredient list consider dried herbs, especially seeds and items that may pop or release a strong odour. Coffee beans can work although your little one may find them a little hard to crush. Grapes, strawberries, melon balls and eggshells, make good grinding matter. Combine items with different consistencies and smells. If you can then turn the grinding efforts into something that’s edible – great. But if it’s a particularly messy episode of play, good hygiene may not permit!
Playing with Chalk
Taking the material that is ground in the mortar and pestle and then using it for another activity is another valuable opportunity to expose your child to resourcefulness and imagination. Take a range of coloured chalks to be ground in the mortar. Then offer water. The result is a messy paint that can turn into an art activity. For best results, let the child discover the process of turning chalk into paint. Introduce a jug or bottle of water but allow them to arrive at the results of combining the two ingredients. Offer paint brushes and paper to create their masterpieces.
Keep in mind that getting dirty and making a mess are prerequisite for preschoolers’ learning fun. Allow them to find new items to add to the mortar. And it doesn’t matter if the items are too hard to be ground up. Adding a rock to the mortar is as useful a journey of discovery for a child as finding a soft item that grinds easily.