I've never really thought about having my son help in the kitchen, until more recently when he can do things like mix batter, crack eggs and help with measuring. Apparently, there are huge benefits to getting kids helping out and doing activities in the kitchen – and not only to prep them for cooking you amazing dinners one day, or groom them to be the winning MasterChef in 2035.
I love baking with my son as it gives us qualty time together, and it's something that yields great results. Aside from that time I put the icing mix in the cake tin to bake, and mixed the cake mix with butter to try get it into icing. While this is good-enough reason to spend time with your kids in the kitchen, there are several development benefits too, according to Susanne Hugo, an occupational therapist and MySmartKid* expert.
Here are a few examples of areas that can be stimulated while they’re busy in the kitchen:
- Strengthening hand muscles: Eg when kneading dough or rubbing butter and flour together to make crumble.
- Bilateral integration: Eg when rolling dough
- Creativity/artistic skills: Eg when decorating a cake or cookies
- Fine motor skills/coordination: Eg threading fruit onto skewers
- Counting and measuring: Eg when measuring the ingredients and counting the amount cups of flour used to bake bread.
- Vocabulary: Eg learning new words like vanilla essence and lemon zest.
- Hand-eye coordination: Eg cutting soft fruits like a banana for fruit salad.
- Stimulating the various senses, Eg taste (exploring the different tastes of food), smell (different citrus fruit / vinegar / spices), touch (different textures), hearing (like when whisking, breaking eggs, sieving flour), vision (like when decorating cakes and cookies; seeing the different ingredients used to make food).
2 – 3 years:
- Let your child assist you with laying the table.
- Stir and mix ingredients.
- Assist him with cutting biscuits and sandwich shapes using cookie cutters.
- Help pack away the ingredients and utensils that were used.
- Assist you in cleaning the kitchen afterwards.
- Parallel play occurs during this age. Thus, give your child the same activity you are doing, for example washing potatoes, but give him his own bowl of water and potatoes to wash. Let him sit next to you, so that he can copy what you do, but still do it on his own.
3 – 4 years: (Also the activities as mentioned under 2-3 year olds)
- Gradually associative play will replace parallel play. Thus, you can do more and more tasks together with your child, like baking a cake together or preparing a meal.
- Icing cookies
- Rolling dough
- Using cookie cutters to make different shaped cookies
- Kneading dough: Let her press, squeeze and break pieces off.
- Your child’s skills in terms of throwing fluid from jug to jug will also improve. She can, from about 3 years 6 months, throw water in a glass from a jug.
- Give her tasks where he must open and close the tap.
- Let your child assist you in packing away.
4 – 5 years:
- Let him help lay the table.
- Icing cookies: By now he will be more precise and less messy!
- He will now start appreciating the end-product and will be proud of it, thus let him help to complete a dish and show him the end-result. Give him the opportunity to show others what he did and let him be proud of it.
- He can now compare objects in terms of size, weight and length. Thus, make him aware of the different sizes measuring cups, let him weigh food, etc.
- He will also be able to carry a cup with fluid without wasting any.
- Give him the opportunity to start using a knife and a fork when preparing food or when eating.
5 – 6 years:
- Let her lay the table on his own.
- She can now start using a knife to cut food. (Just make sure that it is safe!)
- She can now dish up his own food and ask him to assist dishing up for others.
- Give her opportunities to make his own sandwiches.
- She can carry dishes on a tray.
- She can wash dirty dishes but may need help when drying them.
- She can clean the dirty table.
- Patience is key. Kitchen tasks will take much longer when your child assist, but just remember all the things he is learning while doing so.
- Encourage experiments and let his imagination run wild, eg when decorating cookies.
- Embrace the imperfection of your child’s creation/dish. Always make him feel proud of what he has made, even if it doesn’t look exactly as it is supposed to.
- Involve your child in choosing, preparing and helping to cook food.
- When busy in the kitchen, introduce concepts like one and many, big and small, thick and thin, the same and different.
- Your child will still have a short concentration span, so do not force him to help you until the dish (product) is finished.
- Things will get messy, so remember to put on an apron for your child if you don’t want him to mess on his clothes.
* Mysmartkid offers play and development boxes for children between birth and the age of six, and focuses on early childhood development (ECD) under the important categories of Wellbeing, Identity, Concepts, Creativity, Communication and My World.
Each stage-appropriate box has toys, activities and a parent guide compiled by experts. Each programme costs R325 per child every two months, and delivery is free in South Africa. You will also get exclusive articles, and access to resources, information and support tailored to your child’s age For more information, head to their site, or call 0861 555 224.