I started having LittleMan help in the kitchen just before he turned 2 years old. The first meal I taught him to make *mostly* by himself was “eggy-bread,” he was 2.5 at the time. (Eggy-bread was his name for french toast.) Back then LittleMan’s time in the kitchen was meant to help him learn to follow directions and develop his motor skills, it wasn’t until recently that I started showing him how to read a recipe and how to measure ingredients by himself.
(making playdough, 3 y/o)
Due to all that time he spent helping me cook, LittleMan is quite at home in the kitchen but I’ve been meaning to further his skill-set for awhile now. The holidays have been the perfect excuse to do just that.
(making stuffing, 4 y/o)
For Thanksgiving this year, LittleMan was actually the one who made the stuffing and the crescent rolls.
I tend to make too many Christmas cookies every year and end up having to pawn them off on my husband’s co-workers. This year I decided to embrace my over-zealous holiday baking and actually planned ahead to incorporate it into our homeschool lesson plans. This entire week LittleMan’s school work will take place in the kitchen. His reading will be cook books and recipe cards. His math will be measuring ingredients and doubling recipes. His biology will be to learn about how healthy/unhealthy foods effect our bodies. His chemistry will be predicting outcomes of slightly altered recipes and observing changes as various ingredients are mixed. His geography will be to learn where in the world our foods come from. His history will be to learn about cultural traditions surrounding the foods we are working with. – There isn’t a single subject that can’t be taught to a kindergartner in the kitchen.
Today’s assignment was to make a snack for the family. Blueberry smoothies and sugar cookies from scratch.
This was LittleMan’s first time using the blender and he was not a fan how noisy it was but he toughed it out.
Once we all had a smoothie to sip on, we got to work on the hard stuff: the cookies.
LittleMan is still adjusting to having to measure out ingredients. I used to just hand him a measuring cup and tell him how many times it needed to be filled. Today I let him read the number for himself off the recipe card and figure out which cup to use and how many times to fill it. I said nothing when he used a half-cup too much sugar. These are things he must learn through trial and error.
He does however love seeing egg on the recipe card. Eggs are easy to count and since he has been cracking his own eggs for over a year, he is just as good at it as I am.
The last few moments of mixing, when the dough is rather thick, he still asks for my help and I oblige. Trying to get that flour evenly distributed can be quite the work out for a child’s arm so I still assist with that.
There was some frustration when it came time to roll the dough into balls. We talked about how sometimes it helped to coat your hands with something dry so the dough wouldn’t stick to it. I was quite proud when LittleMan suggested using flour on his hands, for a moment I worried he might want to try baking soda or something silly like that.
While the cookies baked we worked on LittleMan’s paper bag cook book. These pictures are of a work-in-progress and not a finished product so please keep that in mind.
To make a paper bag book one only needs 3or4 paper lunch sacks and some means of binding them.
I opted for 3 paper bags, alternating which direction the opening was as I laid them in a pile, then I folded them down the center and sewed them together with needle and thread. Staples would have worked just as easily but my stapler isn’t long enough to accommodate such projects.
I labeled each page with Sharpie marker and left much blank areas for LittleMan to go back and decorate with markers or pictures he cuts out of magazines.
Some pages are the bottoms of the paper bags and therefore are just a page. Other pages are the tops of paper bags and have a bit of a pocket, the perfect size to hold several 3×5 index cards. I use those pockets to hold cards with measurement conversions on them, recipe cards, and vocabulary cards.
On the pages that did not have pockets, I wrote down the kitchen rules and drew a food pyramid. For the kitchen rules I actually asked LittleMan what he thought the rules were and wrote down what he said verbatim, there are obviously more rules than what he told me but I felt he remembered the most important stuff.
I realize that the food pyramid has recently changed and that now children are being taught a “plate” method of healthy eating instead. I don’t think it matters quite so much how it is taught, as long as they understand the basics of nutrition, especially at this young age.
I do plan on discussing this subject with LittleMan some more this week but, like manners and honesty, healthy eating is something children will mostly learn from example rather than lectures.
Over all, I think we’ve got a pretty decent start to our theme week and I’m looking forward to having LittleMan’s help in the kitchen when it comes time to prepare Christmas dinner.
If you haven’t had your children help in the kitchen then you might be a bit scared to try. To those of you who want to invite your children to bake with you for the first time this holiday season, I urge you to use two things: common sense and personal assessment.
It is just good common sense to never leave your child unattended near a hot stove and to discuss with them the various reasons we do certain things. How can they be expected to behave safely if they do not understand the dangers of certain behaviors? Beyond safety, it is also good common sense to start small and build up your child’s skill sets. I didn’t just invite my 4 year old into the kitchen one day and hand him a sharp knife without any previous experiences. He spent 2 years practicing cutting soft items with a butter knife and learning the appropriate way to handle this tool before he was allowed to use the cutting knives. Starting small isn’t just applicable to knife use- any new skill a child learns should be taught in baby steps. They should have a solid foundation of the basics before they are asked to perform complex tasks. You can’t just jump from making a peanut butter sandwich to roasting a turkey without some stops in between.
By personal assessment I mean that you must also take into account your child’s abilities and limits. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone. There are plenty of 5 year olds who are clumsy or careless and if you know your child is that way then you know that maybe they aren’t ready to peel potatoes because they are liable to cut themselves. That said, there are plenty of 3 year olds who have mature motor skills and focus well on tasks and if you know your child is that way then maybe it would be safe for them use the peeler. Your child is a unique individual and since you as their parent know them better than anyone else, you are the most equipped person to decide which tasks they are ready for and which tasks should wait a year or two.