Children, especially very young ones, love helping in the kitchen. Sometimes it seems much easier to keep them busy elsewhere during meal preparation, but there are many advantages to involving children in a variety of kitchen duties.
Although understanding the basics of cooking is a life skill that will serve a child very well, there is so much more to be learned in the kitchen than this.
There are many opportunities in the kitchen to help build pre-reading skills. You can talk about the size, shape, colour and texture of ingredients. Read the recipe aloud. Describe your child’s or your own actions as you go through the steps. When new words come up, such as an unfamiliar ingredient or a cooking term, repeat them several times in sentences.
The kitchen is a great place to learn early math skills such as counting and following directions in order. Measuring cups offer a first look at fractions. Children can have an introduction to volume, weight and capacity.
Your budding scientist will learn about cause and effect. Combining different ingredients, adding liquids, boiling, melting, or chilling change the way foods look, feel and taste.
Working in the kitchen is also good for the muscles. Activities like stirring, rolling or mashing help develop motor skills and coordination.
Help your child develop healthy eating habits early on by talking about the different food groups. As you prepare a meal together, ask your child to identify the components that fall under each category.
It is very rewarding for a child to participate in the transformation from a bunch of individual ingredients to a complete meal or product. If you are able to take it one step further and grow some of your own fruits, vegetables or herbs, this makes it even more exciting.
As children grow, they can take on more tasks in the kitchen. They can be put in charge of reading the recipe, and printing the grocery list for the next week’s meals. Challenge an older child by asking to have a recipe doubled or cut in half. Help your child choose a simple meal that he can prepare primarily on his own. This can become his "specialty" and he will be proud to serve it.
By welcoming your child into the kitchen, you are acquiring a helper, teaching endless skills, and making wonderful memories together.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 7, 2013