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Keen to get your toddlers and preschoolers helping you in the kitchen? Did you know that preparing food and cooking together can be a highly educational activity if you engage your children in the process?
During the first years of a child’s life, learning happens through play – in the bath, in the sandpit and during many other daily activities. The kitchen is just one of these great learning opportunities.
6 Things Your Child is Learning While You Cook Together
Your child does not need to take on the responsibility of planning and cooking an entire meal. Based on their age and ability level, they can help with small things such as counting items, fetching utensils, mixing ingredients together or doing other small tasks.
Here are 6 things your children are learning from you when they help you prepare, cook or bake.
This is one of the biggest learning experiences in the kitchen.
Maths comes in all forms while cooking – from the simplest tasks such as fetching four carrots, to more complex tasks such as measuring quantities in a measuring jug.
Provide opportunities to practise these skills by asking questions such as:
- How many eggs do we need if each person in our family gets one?
- Should we count them on our fingers?
- Can you put the potatoes in a row, from the smallest one to the biggest one?
- Can you cut each tomato into 4 pieces?
- Set the table and give each person a knife, fork and a spoon.
- Measure 3 cups of water and pour it into the bowl.
- How many gingerbread men do we need to bake for your party?
These kinds of experiences develop pre-mathematical concepts that are important for a child to be able to grasp more formal mathematical ideas at school.
The process of cooking requires talking about recipes, methods and ingredients. Often, these are new words your child may not be familiar with.
Children learn about preparation techniques (e.g. slicing, dicing, mashing), cooking techniques (e.g. simmering, baking, grilling) and even unique food and condiments (e.g. asparagus, flour, rosemary). Discuss, explain and ask questions about the process as you go along and you will be expanding your child’s ever-growing vocabulary.
Fine Motor Skills
Children have many opportunities to build their fine motor skills in the kitchen. Simple tasks such as these can work on small muscle development:
- Collecting ingredients
- Mixing and kneading
- Chopping or slicing
- Peeling vegetables
- Arranging on a plate
- Stirring food
- Setting the table
- Removing skins
- Washing small vegetables or fruits
- Opening containers, jars or bottles
The opportunities are endless!
Cooking can be the perfect time to hone your child’s listening skills. A good way to do this is to work on your child’s ability to follow instructions.
Start by only providing one instruction to a very young child (e.g. please fetch me the potato peeler) and move onto multiple-step instructions with your older child (e.g. Fetch three tomatoes from the refrigerator, wash them and place them on the cutting board.)
By the time your child is 5, he should be able to follow roughly 4 or 5 simple instructions at once. This is an excellent and practical way to practise this important life skill.
When you involve your children in the daily running of your home and in the care that goes into making sure everyone is healthy, happy and looked after, they develop a sense of responsibility.
Your child will feel proud to have contributed to making a meal and being a capable member of the family.
Through helping, children also learn the value of the time spent creating something. They learn not to take the care they receive for granted and they develop gratitude.
Cooking can be an excellent opportunity to chat and bond with your child. It is a time when you are both working together on a common goal and are not distracted by the television, work or other daily happenings.
Children love the undivided attention of their parents and this is an ideal time to be together and build an even closer bond.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these very simple tips on how to make cooking time learning time! Please comment below and tell us if your children love being in the kitchen with you!
Guest Post by Tanja Mcilroy
Tanja is a former preschool and early grades teacher. She started her blog Empowered Parents to help parents get involved in their children’s learning journey. She has a passion for talking about the benefits of play in early childhood and how you can prepare your child for school through play. You can find her website at www.empoweredparents.co or her Pinterest profile at https://za.pinterest.com/theempoweredparents/
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