When it is cold and damp outside, there is no better time to go into the kitchen and cook up something warm and cozy. Including your children in cooking is a great way to help them learn. Cooking gives children the opportunity to experience the world first-hand. Make sure that children are directly involved in the food activity. Adults are there to assist the children, not the other way around.

Cooking is especially enjoyable for children because it gives them the opportunity to use all five of their senses. They see the foods and have the chance to touch them. They can also hear foods popping or sizzling and smell the aromas. Finally, the best part of all is that they get to taste their finished product.

Food activities help foster children’s creativity. Cooking gives parents the opportunity to help children use descriptive vocabulary such as bitter, steamy or delicious. Cooking should be an open activity where children can set their own pace and learn from their mistakes. Cooking lends itself to a lot of variety. There are various recipes and ingredient combinations with which children can experiment, with an adult’s suggestion.

Cooking gives children the opportunity to engage in an activity that is new and challenging, but not too difficult. A child might be comfortable scooping flour out of a bag, but she might need help with a more difficult task, such as pouring milk out of a gallon jug. Whisking, cutting or measuring with teaspoons and tablespoons give wrist and finger muscles practice. Stirring, pouring and ladling use shoulder and arm muscles associated with gross motor skills. Cooking tasks like these give children the chance to build upon both fine and gross motor skills. It is important for parents to stay close and gently guide children in the process.

Cooking also creates a chance to practice math and science skills within your own home. Children are able to engage in simple math skills such as learning amounts and the concepts of more and less and measurements. Children can hypothesize about what might happen next, or if a recipe gets changed. They also have a front row seat to watch changes as they occur.

Another special learning benefit is increasing children’s interest in tasting new or different foods. They may be more inclined to try a greater variety of foods if they have had the chance to prepare it.

Children of almost any age can help in the kitchen, as long as there is enough parental supervision. Sharp knives should not be used, but a plastic, serrated knife may be safe for children. Ovens and electric burners should never be used without adult supervision. Take the time to talk with children about hot appliances, when they should and should not be used, and how long appliances stay hot even after they have been turned off. Cooking is also a good opportunity for children to practice with safeguards such as health, safety, cleanliness, and germs.

Remember; don’t keep kids out of the kitchen just because it can get messy at times. Cooking is a great opportunity to bond with children. It opens the door for discussion, creativity, and learning.

Reference: Mayesky, M. (2009). Creative activities for young children (9th). New York: Delmar Publishers.

Source: Carole Gnatuk, Extension Specialist for Child Development, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; Lauren Michalak, Graduate Assistant

Educational programs of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.

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