ATK Kids

6 Hands-on Activities to Encourage Learning in the Kitchen

Even if school isn’t in session, there’s lots of learning to be done in the kitchen. These six hands-on STEAM activities bring learning to life for kids ages 5 and up.

Published Apr. 11, 2020.

With widespread school cancellations, we know many adults are learning how to homeschool kids on the fly. 

In addition to recipes, our team at America's Test Kitchen Kids also develops hands-on activities and experiments at the intersection of food and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning. Specifically designed for at-home learning, most of these activities don't require much equipment and rely on pantry ingredients. Here are six of our favorites, along with the key learning goals of each. (Bonus: The first three are all edible!)

When you click on each link, it will send you to its page on the America’s Test Kitchen Kids website where, in addition to the instructions, you’ll find a kid-friendly breakdown of what happens in the activity to help reinforce their learning. You’ll also find our entire library of 150+ kid-tested and kid-approved recipes, STEAM activities and experiments, and quizzes—all currently free for you to use. We will also be posting a weekly Kitchen Classroom series, giving you a day by day playbook of hands-on learning (and edible fun!) you can tackle in your kitchen.

From left: Be a Salt Farmer, The Many Shades of Flavor, Amazing Emulsions

Be a Salt Farmer

In this activity, kids can make their own flaky finishing salt from kosher salt. If you’ve got a magnifying glass at home, kids can observe the differences between the structure of kosher salt crystals and the crystals in their own chunky, flaky salt. [GET THE ACTIVITY]

What You’ll Need:

¼ cup distilled or filtered water
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Key Learning Takeaways

  • Science (evaporation): Over time, liquid water turns into water vapor and evaporates into the air. Kids can observe how long it takes all the water in their salt farm to evaporate.
  • Science (solutions/dissolving): Kids observe that salt crystals dissolve in water and learn that you can dissolve more salt in hot water.


The Many Shades of Flavor

Does a food’s color affect what we think of its flavor? In this surprising experiment, kids can find out by changing the color of apple juice and challenging participants to decide what beverages they’re drinking. It’s perfect when you have more than one kid in the house. [GET THE ACTIVITY]

What You’ll Need:

½ cup per person apple juice
Red food coloring

Key Learning Takeaway

  • Science (our senses): Our brains associate certain flavors with certain colors based on our prior experiences.


Amazing Emulsions

Some ingredients just don’t mix, like oil and water. Unless, that is, they’re emulsified. Kids can learn about the science of emulsion in this kinesthetic experiment (and make a salad dressing for dinner, to boot). [GET THE ACTIVITY]

What You’ll Need:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Table salt and pepper

Key Learning Takeaway

  • Science (chemistry): Emulsifiers are molecules that bridge the gap between two substances that don’t typically mix, such as oil and water.


From left: Salt Art, Design Challenge: Pack It Up, Chill Out

Salt Art

Salt doesn’t just make food tasty—it can be used to make fun art projects, too. Kids first make designs on paper using  glue and kosher salt. Then, kids can use watercolor paint to flood the salty design with color. [GET THE ACTIVITY]

What You’ll Need:

Watercolor paper or card stock
Rimmed baking sheet
White glue
1 cup kosher salt
2+ small bowls
Small paintbrush
Watercolor paints

Key Learning Takeaways

  • Science (absorption): Salt is hygroscopic, meaning can absorb a large amount of water.
  • Art (color mixing): Mixing primary colors (red, yellow, blue) creates secondary colors (orange, purple, green).


Design Challenge: Pack It Up

Task kids with designing a package to protect a single chip or cracker from breaking during a fall. They can look at food packages around the house for inspiration, and use whatever office supplies and food storage materials you have around the house. [GET THE ACTIVITY]

What You’ll Need:

2-3 thin, fragile chips or crackers per person, such as Pringles potato crisps
Materials such as:
Cotton balls
Aluminum foil
Scrap paper
Plastic wrap
Painter’s tape

Key Learning Takeaways

  • Engineering and design: Creative problem solving
  • Engineering and design: Sometimes, there are multiple solutions to a single problem


Chill Out

Do all frozen things feel equally cold? Kids can find out the answer in this chilly science experiment, where they compare an ice cube to a frozen square of butter. [GET THE ACTIVITY]

What You’ll Need:

1 per person ice cube per person
2 tablespoons per person butter per person 

Key Learning Takeaways

  • Science (heat transfer): Heat moves (transfers) differently through different materials, including our hands. 


The Young Chefs' Club

On sale until March 31, 2020, the next Young Chefs’ Club monthly subscription box is all about BEVERAGES! From recipes such as Flavored Seltzers, DIY Grenadine, and Horchata to science experiments about bubbly beverages to crafting paper drink umbrellas, this box has something fun for everyone!  
Learn More


For more tips on cooking and baking with kids, check out these articles:

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