When Pam Abrams set out to write Gadgetology (Harvard Common Press, 2007), part cookbook, part kitchen manual, and part activity book, she enlisted a team of tweens. Together, they developed the crafts, games, and experiments that are done with the 35 kitchen gadgets featured in the book.
“Kids at this age are so inventive,” says Abrams, whose son is a tween. “If you give them raw materials and aren’t afraid to have them experiment in your kitchen, they will put together really fun projects. Their minds are fascinating!”
Abrams encourages tweens to experiment with tools they’ve never used before. These are often ones that require muscle strength, such as a handheld rotary beater or mortar and pestle.
Let tweens exert independence in the kitchen, suggests Abrams. Hang out in the area and be there to answer questions, such as how to use the oven, but let the kids direct themselves.
“Now is the time to teach them how to use sharp knives,” says Abrams. “If they learn how to be respectful and safe with [these tools], you will be relaxed when the kids are around.”
Here are some of the gadgets and activities Abrams and her crew of tweens love:
When it comes to grating, don’t stop at cheese. Grated peeled crayons make great wax-resistant paintings. Lay a box grater on its side. Place a piece of white paper on the side of the grater that is facing up. Rub a peeled crayon on top of the paper until a textured pattern appears on the paper. Use several sides of the grater to create various patterns. Repeat with different-colored crayons. Take the paper off the grater and, using watercolor paints, paint over the crayon pattern. The wax will resist the paint and fill in wherever the crayon hasn’t colored. To make a more elaborate project, once the painting has dried, cut it into shapes and glue them on a new piece of paper to make a collage.
To make grated-crayon stained glass, peel paper off a crayon. Using the largest holes on a box grater, grate the crayon and place the shavings into a small bowl. Repeat with different-colored crayons. Sprinkle the crayon shavings onto the sticky side of a sheet of clear laminating or contact paper. Cover with a second sheet, sticky side down. Place the contact paper in between sheets of newspaper. To melt the grated crayon, place the stack of newspapers on an ironing board and, using a hot iron, press for 20 seconds. Pull out the contact paper from in between the newspaper to see how the design is coming along. It is done when the wax is fully melted but not so hot that it oozes out of the laminating paper. Use a cookie cutter as a stencil to trace a shape; cut out the shape. Tape the shape to a window so the sun will shine through.
Mortar and Pestle
This gadget is about as low tech as they come, but this doesn’t detract from its kid appeal. To make homemade sidewalk chalk, grind the shells from six hard-boiled eggs into a fine powder. In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of hot water with 1 teaspoon of flour until smooth. Add the eggshell powder and, if you want colored chalk, and 1/8 teaspoon of powdered tempera paint. With your hands, form the mixture into a stick of chalk. Wrap in a paper towel let the chalk harden and dry, which should take about three days.
While most people use electric beaters, every now and then — especially when hanging out in the kitchen with tweens — it’s nice to take the time to use this old-fashioned tool, says Abrams. This simple machine has transforming powers that delights and amazes kids.
Making snow-covered candles is a perfect project for older kids who appreciate the process as much as they appreciate the result.
Tape a toothpick to the wick of one large cylinder-shaped candle (or several small ones) and completely cover the wick with tape.
Melt 1/2 pound of paraffin in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the heat for about 60 seconds or until the wax just starts to set at the bottom of the bowl.
Beat the wax as fast as possible with a rotary beater, making sure to keep up the speed. The wax will begin to increase in volume and resemble soap bubbles. Keep beating until the liquid wax is completely gone and the soft “snow” has formed.
Carefully roll the sides of the candles in the snowy wax. Using the back of a plastic spoon, fill in any missed spots. While the wax is still warm and pliable, decorate by gently pushing sequins, beads or other decorations into the wax. Once the candles have hardened (about one hour), remove the tape and toothpick. Don’t forget to clean the rotary beater by pouring boiling water over it so the wax will melt right off.
This gizmo looks like a giant needle and is traditionally used to inject liquid flavorings into meat. To see a beautiful display of color, make color shooters by mixing ten drops of food coloring with 1/8th cup of clear water. Fill the marinade injector with the colored water. Submerge the needle into a clear glass of plain water and shoot the colored water in for a magnificent blast of color. When you first inject it, the water looks like movable abstract art as it spreads and expands. The less diluted the food coloring, the more intense the blast will look.
And finally, for an edible project, inject flavors into a piece of fruit, a glass of water, or even a slice of cake, and then sample the food and guess the flavors. To make flavored strawberries, fill the injector with juice and inject it into a strawberry. Repeat with other strawberries and flavors. Extracts (peppermint, vanilla, almond, or lemon) diluted with a bit of hot water and added sugar work well, too.
The tween years are full of enormous creativity and imagination, and the memories created in the kitchen at this juncture of life will stay with them into their adult years.
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