Lessons With Instant Oatmeal

My husband bought instant oatmeal for the kid’s breakfast, the kind that you empty the packet into a bowl, add some water, and microwave it.  Presto! Easy, kinda-nutritious breakfast.  It’s an easy breakfast that I thought my kids could make themselves that’s not cold cereal.

My 8-year old son is usually the first one up and the first words out of his mouth are usually “Mom… what’s for breakfast?” Whereupon I list out his choices that he can have: there’s waffles in the freezer, you can have some toast and yogurt, I was going to make myself some eggs do you want me to make you one?  All of these he just shook his head, none of them would do for this connoisseur of breakfast foods.

“There’s that oatmeal that Dad bought the other day, why don’t you have that?”

He really liked that idea and went to the pantry, opened the door and pushed aside the Cheerios and tortilla chips to get the instant oatmeal.  He brought the packet to me as I was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying my morning tea.  “No, I’m not making this for you.  You can do it yourself” I told him, handing the packet back to him.

“Look,” I said, “Here are the directions, go ahead and read them.  What’s the first thing we have to do?”

My son is resistant to read aloud something that’s new.  He doesn’t know what some of the words are so he prefers not to do it at all.  My high school students do the same thing.  He whined a little (high school students also do this) about reading the directions of the packet but I wouldn’t let this learning opportunity pass him by.  Poor kid, his mother teaches high school math.

“What does it say?” I asked again after he was done with his pouting.  I brought the packet closer to him and pointed to each word in step number one as he read it aloud in a halting mumble.

“Empty packet into…” he said.

“Sound it out… ‘mi-cro-wave'” as I pointed to each syllable.

“Microwave safe bowl.  What does that even mean?”  He whined.  I may as well have asked him to solve a quadratic equation.

“That means you empty your packet into a bowl that’s safe to put into the microwave” I said as I shook the packet to show him what a packet was.  “So, go get a bowl.”

My son left the dining room and walked around to the kitchen to get a bowl.  He opened the cabinet where they were kept and looked up.  He couldn’t reach them.  “Will you get down a bowl for me?”

“No, you can do it yourself”  I replied from my chair at the kitchen table as I took a drink from my tea.

My son heaved another sigh and went to get a chair to stand on to reach the bowls.  He brought the chair back and stood on it to select a bowl for himself.  After making his selection of a bowl he brought it back to me and I walked him through the remaining two steps.

He read the last two steps to me and I helped him understand what 2/3 cup meant and what it means to microwave on high 1-2 minutes.  You always want to microwave it the smaller time because you can always add time if you need too.  He put the bowl in the microwave above the stove by using the chair to stand on and pressed the button to microwave it on high for one minute.  When the microwave dinged, I helped him take it down, and he stirred the oatmeal.

He carefully carried it to the dining room table where he stirred it again and ate it.  He enjoyed it so much that he made himself another packet, this time completely on his own.

Mission accomplished!  One more task that he can do by himself.  We’re raising kids to be independent adults around here!  Then, it was my daughter’s turn to make her own instant oatmeal.

My daughter is 10 years old and can read directions just fine.  She did everything that the instant oatmeal packet told her to do which was why she came to me practically in tears showing me her exploded bowl of oatmeal that she was holding between two pot holders.

“What happened?!” I asked her, peering at her mess of an oatmeal bowl.  “Did you follow the directions?”

“Yes!” She replied, voice quavering with emotion and holding back the tears.

“Did you microwave it for a minute?”  I pursued.

“Yes!” She responded, incredulous that the directions would betray her, and looking at her messy oatmeal in disbelief.  The directions have always worked for her before.  I’ve seen the same look on high-achieving freshmen who didn’t get the correct answer.

“I did it for a minute and then stirred it just like it said and it wasn’t done, so I microwaved it again for another minute” she insisted.

“Wasn’t done?  Logan microwaved it for a minute and his was done.”

“It wasn’t done, Mom!”  She exclaimed.

Then it hit me.  The oatmeal packet told her to put in 2/3 cup of water in the bowl and it came out too runny for her.

“Okay, we can fix this, don’t worry.  Put the bowl on the counter and we’ll pour it into a larger bowl and try this again.”  I said.

I explained to her that the packet asked for too much water for thick oatmeal and that next time she should pour only about a half-cup of water into her oatmeal bowl.  I had her open another packet and she poured it into the new bowl and had her stir it up with her spoon.

“Okay, now we just added another packet to this bowl so that means we should add more water.  Two-thirds is too much for you, right?”  My daughter nodded.  “So let’s just pour a little at a time until the mixture is as thick as you want it.”

Ah, ratios and proportions, I thought, almost as fun as the quadratic equation.