by Carol Grise
Holiday celebrations usually involve some traditional foods. Preschoolers like being part of the festivities, including helping make holiday foods. When children participate in cooking activities they gain math, science, and language skills. They can count teaspoons of baking powder. When they watch a stick of butter melting, they are learning the science of solids changing to liquids. They learn the names of kitchen utensils, ingredients, and cookware, increasing vocabulary. When stirring a cake mix, they develop arm and hand strength needed for future writing skills. While working together in the kitchen, preschoolers learn about taking turns, working as a team, and feeling pride in an completed task. Preschoolers involved in cooking will be more inclined to try new foods they helped create.
Make cooking with preschoolers a positive experience, by considering the child’s age and developmental level. Before, during, and after food preparation cooks of all ages should wash their hands thoroughly. Obtain a sturdy step stool to help a preschooler reach kitchen counters. Have your preschooler wear old clothes or purchase a child-size apron to protect clothing. Talk to the child about the importance of safety in the kitchen. Make some kitchen activities for adults only, like handling sharp knives or taking the hot cookie sheet out of the oven. To prevent frustration and confusion, have ingredients and supplies ready ahead of time. Consider starting with simple kitchen projects where success is easily achieved. Keep paper towels and kitchen sponges handy to clean up spills quickly. Be positive when mistakes happen. Give the child an opportunity to try again.
When should a child start participating in the kitchen? A well-rested two year old can help with simple projects, such as making a sandwich or lemonade. They can tear lettuce and help scrub fruit and vegetables. A two year old can learn kitchen words, such as spatula and sifter. Keep in mind that two’s don’t share easily, so have enough kitchen tools to share with all family cooks.
When a child is three years old, he usually wants to help in the kitchen. A three year old is curious about shapes, colors, sizes, and counting. Show him the shapes of bowls and pans, the colors of vegetables or fruits, and the sizes of measuring cups. As you are working together, tell him the different names of kitchen equipment, utensils, and ingredients. Ask him to count the cups of flour added to a mixing bowl. Allow a three year old to pour, stir, and spoon ingredients. Let him serve food he has helped prepare.
Four and five year olds absolutely love to help! They will frequently ask questions about what is going on. They can continue to do the kitchen activities enjoyed by a three year old, then adding more complex actions which develop control of their fingers, such as peeling oranges, cutting soft foods with a plastic knife, and using cookie cutters. Most four year olds understand a sequence (first, second, etc.) and can comprehend the idea of following recipe directions.
Learning to cook reinforces responsibility. The kitchen experience involves being responsible for cleaning up after the recipe is completed. Depending upon the age of the child, involve him in kitchen clean-up, such as wiping off the table with a sponge, rinsing a dirty pan, or putting away clean utensils.
Cooking is a great way to spend time together. Sharing kitchen activities encourages family members to work as a team and can open up opportunities for family discussions. Confidence in the kitchen will help your child develop skills that will carry into the classroom. Cooking skills learned can be used in the future when he goes out into the world on his own.
As your family prepares to celebrate the holidays, spend some time together in the kitchen stirring and learning with your preschooler.