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Show me butter
Alison Levitch, M.A., Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri

Did you know that Missouri was once ranked 16th in the nation in milk production? According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, in 1997 Missouri dairy farmers produced 2.4 billion pounds of milk. Of this milk, some was separated as cream and later became butter. Early childhood educators can use such tidbits of information to support children's development and learning.

For example, preschool teachers in Italy engage children in the local custom of making grape juice. Children 3 to 5 years old in Italy make their own grape juice from local grapes. Teachers guide children through the process, which involves stomping the grapes, pouring and measuring the juice, and decorating labels for the juice bottles. After the juice is made, children and their families share it with teachers and members of the community. This activity encourages development of children's motor skills, math abilities and creativity. Most important, children experience a sense of pride as they participate in a community tradition.

Cultural information can be used similarly in early childhood programs in Missouri. Instead of grape juice, Missouri preschoolers can make butter using cream from local dairy cows. As a young child, my classmates and I learned how to make butter from cream. To share our experiences with the community, our picture was taken and published in the local newspaper. And, like the preschoolers in Italy, we invited our families to join us and eat the butter.

Below is a recipe for making butter that is suitable for preschool-aged children. Like making grape juice, making butter develops children's motor skills and encourages science learning. The activity works best with small groups of four or five preschoolers.

For each jar of butter:

  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • small glass jar with a lid (baby food jars work well)


  1. Pour the cream into jar so that it is three-fourths full.
  2. Screw lid on tightly.
  3. Shake the jar for approximately 20 minutes. Encourage children to take turns shaking the jars.
  4. After some time, the cream will thicken. This means that butter is forming.
  5. After the butter has formed, drain it from the buttermilk and rinse.
  6. Store the butter in a clean food container and refrigerate.
  7. Spread the butter on bread or crackers for a snack, meal or special gathering with family.

To extend this activity:

  • Take children to a local dairy farm.
  • Arrange a toy farm set in your classroom (barn, farm animals, little people).
  • Read books about related topics, such as:
    • How to Speak Moo! by Deborah Fajerman (2002). Published by Barron’s.
    • On a Farm by Cindy Chapman (2004). Published by Compass Point Books as part of the Phonics Readers series.
    • From Farm to Store by Wallace Boten (2004). Published by Compass Point Books as part of the Phonics Readers series.
    • Kiss the Cow! by Phyllis Root (2000). Published by Candlewick Press.
    • Milk: From Cow to Carton (A Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out-Book) by Aliki (1992). Published by HarperTrophy.

D’Amico, Joan, & Drummond, Karen Eich. (1995). The Science Chef: 100 Fun Food Experiments and Recipes for Kids. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Missouri Department of Agriculture Web site:

New, Rebecca. S. (November 2001). Italian early care and education: The social construction of policies, programs, and practices. Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 226 - 236.


last updated 06/21/05


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