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Les Petits Chefs go online!

Virtual cooking classes for kidsIt was about 3 weeks into distance teaching when I found myself finally in some sort of routine. For the first little while there, not only was I completely jetlagged but also was sort of thinking the teaching from home scenario would last a month at most. I figured as long as I was online when I needed to meet my students and had their work posted and marked on time, it didn’t matter when I did anything else. I slept in later than I should have and went to bed later than was ideal. For the first two weeks of distance teaching, I didn’t leave the house (post-travel quarantine) so it kind of felt a bit like a twilight zone… I got my work done but felt completely out of sorts.

When it became obvious that distance teaching/ learning wasn’t a short-lived affair, I got myself organised with a schedule – one that I wrote down for each day listing things I needed to prepare, things I needed to be at live (you know, classes and meetings!) and even things like exercise. If it was on the list, there was a greater chance of it getting done. After a couple of weeks being more organised, I realised I’d settled into a new normal schedule. And I felt more in control and organised. And then I found myself thinking… “What now?”. My classes were drastically different from teaching in-person and whilst the prep required was way more, my actual contact time with my students was way less. I missed the boys.

And then photos started showing up in my phone memories. Photos like this:

Kids making crème pâtissière(the little hand at the top of that photo gets me every time)

and this…

Kids in cooking club making veggie frittersThe little hands at work.

And I realised that it wasn’t just the in-person classes I was missing – it was the sense of community beyond the classroom. Which comes from things like clubs. For the past TEN years, I’ve run cooking club once or twice a week after school and regular readers will know it brings me so much joy. I love connecting with my students (and boys I don’t teach) in an out-of-classroom setting. It helps establish meaningful relationships with students as we connect about something we’re both excited about and as someone who teaches the boys 4 years in a row, that can be super helpful in the classroom too. The boys get to see me in a different light, just like I get to see them in a non-academic setting where so many of them shine! It’s so rewarding and so many of the boys stay in club right through the Junior School (6 years!). I guess I didn’t realise what a huge part of my life it is. Until I didn’t have it anymore.

Following along with virtual cooking clubSo I set about seeing if I could make it work. I asked on social media what online classes for kids might look like. I wanted it to be more than a demo, accessible perhaps beyond the “meet” time and something that the boys could do as a family but also with minimal supervision (just because I didn’t want it to be “another thing” the parents were taking on as well as homeschooling and working at home). A bit of a tall order, right? Luckily I had some brilliant ideas (from some of my students’ parents as well as friends) and set about organising the first lesson, the online platform where I would communicate and share materials and, oh yeah, finding interested students.

Kids making fried riceTurns out adding extra organisational tasks to my week was EXACTLY what I needed. And the enthusiasm from the students and their parents was so motivating. My model involved:

  1. Filming a recipe from start to finish (hello being WAY out of my comfort zone but hey, #lifeinthetimeofcorona, right?)
  2. Writing out the recipes, with extra detailed instructions.
  3. Listing the equipment and ingredients needed and getting that out to the boys and their parents around a week in advance because #shoppinginthetimeofcorona….
  4. Meeting up with the boys online once a week and supervising them as they cooked through the recipe (in theory they were supposed to have studied the video and recipe in advance but that wasn’t always the case).

Virtual cooking classes - kids making vegetable croquettesSounds pretty straightforward (if a lot of work), right? Right!

And it worked BEAUTIFULLY. SO MUCH BETTER than I could ever have hoped for. The first week after two back to back sessions attended by nearly 20 families (students, faculty and staff families too!), I could not stop smiling. The feedback was instant and so positive – not just from the parents but also the kids.

Kids proud of what they have made in cooking clubFeedback was that the students were always SO proud of what they made (and I didn’t really go easy on them in terms of the recipes I chose – see below). I tried to choose dishes that could work as dinner for their families (might as well multitask, right?). And the level of pride was obvious in the photos I was sent….

Goulash soup served in beautiful bowlsCheck out the beautiful plating!

And as the weeks went on, the boys got to be experts at prepping their mise en place…

Kids showing excellent mise en place in cooking class(^^^ I mean…. that’s more organised than me!)

Kids putting a tomato quiche in the ovenAnd were tackling entire recipes on their own (as opposed to just taking part in some of the prep then taking a small portion home). I will admit to being amazed at what we achieved in that hour. And owe a lot of that to the enthusiasm of parents who helped their children get organised and prepped for success. Though I felt a little guilty at taking them away from their own work, I was comforted to hear how much everyone enjoyed the meals each week.

Following virtual instructions in cooking clubAnd that connection piece?

We found that again. We found a little piece of community in those Google Meets each week. Teachers came to cook with their families and chat with their students or former students. Even when people had finished cooking, they often stuck around on the call, just watching everyone else cook or chatting with me or others. Parents joined in and were thrilled to see THEIR friends on the calls with their children. All sorts of connections we take for granted (parents chatting in the parking lot at pickup time, for example) were no-longer but this little corner of the internet provided some of that for a couple of hours each week.

And I was SO grateful.

Kids making berry tartI watched some boys who I have taught for years show me independence and skills I knew they had but which they didn’t. Routinely, I heard from parents that the boys were surprised as how well something had turned out. Or that it “looked like it was supposed to”. Or that “it was REALLY good”. I loved watching that confidence grow over the course of the 9 weeks.

In one of the final sessions, there were a couple of the older boys cooking on their own (as in, parents were not in or near the kitchens because they were on work calls). And apart from a few more questions than usual, I sat back and watched these boys make a meal on their own. It was pretty magical and I didn’t even have that much to do with it! I told them “You’ve got this. You can totally do this.” And they did. As I’ve said time and time again, kids really can cook. You just have to give them a go.

In the last session of the year, a colleague told me his daughter who had cooked with us each week had asked to cook together once a week though the summer. THAT is a win, right there.  I had mums and dads book time off each week to cook with us. Sisters and brothers joining in the sessions each week. And grandparents who got to share the meals that were cooked. That school community extended far beyond the boys working with me. Covid has certainly changed SO MUCH of our lives and we’ve had to learn how to make things work differently. Some things have worked, some haven’t worked as well. I’m certainly grateful to have had the opportunity to run the club through the spring to be able to hang onto a little bit of normalcy through doing something I love.

And what did we make, I hear you asking…

Week 1: Cheesy Pasta Bake
Week 2: Crispy Vegetable Cakes
Week 3: Goulash Soup
Week 4: Ratatouille Frittata
Week 5: Cheesy One Pan Pasta with Meatballs
Week 6: Bacon and Egg Fried Rice
Week 7: Layered Taco Bake
Week 8: Spicy Asian Rice Bowls
Week 9: Roasted Tomato Tart and Mixed Berry Crumble Tart

See – I didn’t exactly choose easy-to-make recipes. But as a parent told me at the end, they were “attainable challenges”.  And I mean, when this is the result, you know you’re doing something right!

Kids loving the soup they have madeNOTE: All photos used with permission

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In the French Kitchen with Kids cover on eatlivetravelwrite.com

 

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3 Responses to Les Petits Chefs go online!

  1. Cathy Batley July 3, 2020 at 07:32 #

    This is so beautiful it makes me cry! This is a story that needs to be preserved so in years to come we can remember the good people did. Instead of doing less you chose to do more. Thank you for reaching out to your community like this.

    • Mardi Michels July 3, 2020 at 08:36 #

      Thank you so much. It’s been a hard few months for everyone, it’s important to remember there were also some exceptional times too!

  2. Kathy July 4, 2020 at 17:05 #

    Simply AWESOME!!!

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