Is your little one fascinated with cooking? Do they love to be your special helper in the kitchen? Cooking is a wonderful way to spend quality time with your kids. Although, having a tiny shadow in the kitchen, does at times make meal preparation more challenging. With a little planning and proper supervision, the kitchen is the perfect environment for your little one to strengthen important developmental skills they will need as they grow.
Cooking is by nature a sensory experience. When we cook, we use sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. Although they are too young to actually help in the kitchen, even babies, (with supervision, of course!), can enjoy time in the kitchen while you are cooking. Let your baby experience the delicious smells of the food as it cooks. As you move about the kitchen, talk to your baby as they visually track your movements. If they are ready for bite sized solid foods, offer your baby different flavors to smell and textures to taste. Let older children get in on the action as well. From a safe distance, let your older child listen to the sizzle of the frying pan, and the whir of the blender. Let them smell the different spices and taste the individual recipe ingredients. Engage your child’s sense of touch. Bake pizza, have them knead and roll out the dough. Make muffins, let your child mix the batter and pour it into the baking tin. Have your child mix the dry ingredients for a cookie recipe and then add in the wet ingredients. Let them roll the cookies into balls and then place them on the baking sheet. Not only loads of fun, sensory rich cooking activities such as these, build nerve connections in your child’s brain that help them to complete more complex learning tasks. Sensory activities also support language development and facilitate problem solving skills.
In addition to facilitating your child’s cognitive development, cooking also supports your child’s physical development. Fine motor skills, hand strength, and hand-eye coordination can all be practiced in the kitchen. Fine motor development involves the coordinated movement of the small muscles in the hands and wrists. Strengthening these muscles helps your child tackle activities such as holding a pencil, fastening buttons, cutting with scissors, using a computer mouse and turning a doorknob. Many kitchen activities help coordinate and strengthen the muscles of the hand. Have your little one peel tangerines or hard-boiled eggs to help improve hand strength and finger dexterity. Let them pluck grapes off the vine to improve their pincer grasp. Snapping green beans in half or tearing lettuce for a salad improves finger strength as well as hand-eye coordination. Squeezing honey from a jar or mashing potatoes bolsters overall hand strength, while stirring and pouring develops both hand strength and hand-eye coordination. Your little one will have so much fun in the kitchen, they won’t realize they are actually working!
Following a recipe is also a great way to help school-aged children learn math, science and receptive language concepts. Let your child practice their fractions as they measure out ingredients. Discuss why certain ingredients are used to reinforce science knowledge. When baking, discuss each ingredient as your child adds it to your mixer. For example, discuss how an egg is often used a as a binder when baking, and how baking soda makes baked goods rise. Test your child’s language and sequencing skills as they follow the steps of the recipe. Further highlight language and sequencing skills by asking, why do we need to do step 1 before step 2? Cooking together also provides many opportunities to discuss food and healthy eating choices. Children who help to prepare meals, are often more adventurous eaters, and in general have more balanced diets than their non-cooking counterparts.
Whether you have an infant, toddler, or school-aged child, the kitchen is the perfect place to reinforce learning in a hands-on environment. What are you waiting for? Throw on those aprons and get cookin’ with your kiddos to strengthen skills and create memories to last a lifetime.