Little Helpers in the Kitchen
Do your kids like to help in the kitchen? Cooking is a great learning experience for children! Today I want to share some of my best tips & tricks to use when you have a little helper and some of the skills that can be learned & practiced in the kitchen!
The most important thing I’ve learned when cooking with a little helper is to lower your expectations when starting out. Having a little helper most likely means that things will not go exactly according to plan. Go into the experience knowing that it is going to be messy. Flour will end up on the counter and floor instead of in the bowl. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Most parents can probably agree, doing anything with a small child takes longer than you’d think! Be prepared, all those cucumbers your child is helping chop will probably end up in their mouth instead of on the plate. Embrace the chaos and enjoy the moment! Before you know it, your child will probably exceed your expectations, and you might even get out of cooking dinner!
To keep stress low, I like to set boundaries for helping in the kitchen. Decide what you are comfortable having your children help with before you get started. Here are some guidelines we typically use in our kitchen for our 3 year old:
- Mom preps everything first - I set out all the ingredients and tools we will need, skim the recipe and turn on the oven before my son joins me in the kitchen. It’s very helpful to have everything out and ready for your eager helper!
- No sharp knives or tools, but kiddie butter knives are approved in our house. These little knives cut more than you’d think! My son loves chopping vegetables. This will require supervision and practice to keep those little fingers safe!
- No raw meat or eggs. This is personal preference. Cracking eggs is a great skill to practice, but this is out of my comfort zone at this point due to possible cross contamination. I always crack the eggs into a measuring cup for my son to pour.
- Safety first! No grabby hands on the counter ever, without asking! You never know if there is going to be something hot or sharp within their reach. I also do not allow my 3 year old to help at the stove or with the oven. When opening the oven I always shout “hot oven” and he knows to keep a safe distance.
- Have fun & take photos! These are precious bonding experiences that will be remembered fondly by each of you.
One of the best tools I can recommend using with a little helper is a learning tower! A learning tower is a platform stool that allows children to reach counter height. They typically have a railing to keep children from falling off. My son started using his learning tower around 18 months old and we use it almost every day. If your child is tall enough, a Bannor Toys step stool would be perfect too!
My son loves to fit the part and wear an apron in the kitchen! I recently added to his collection with a couple of fun summery printed aprons from Target. They are part of the seasonal Sun Squad line and only $5! I have seen them in store and online.
If you think about it, the kitchen is truly a learning lab! The skills practiced will vary widely across different age ranges. Here are some of the skills my 3 year old is currently practicing:
- Patience. If you ask him, he will tell you “cooking is waiting”!
- Following directions. Try to read the recipe out loud and allow your children to follow the steps with you.
- Spatial concepts & Vocabulary. Basically everything your child does in the kitchen will work on their understanding of spatial concepts- up/down, in/out, over/under, above/below, etc. Narrating what you are doing and asking questions will reinforce spatial concepts and expand vocabulary!
- Counting. Using tools such as measuring cups (measure 2 cups of sugar) or counting the ingredients (please get 4 eggs) is a great way to switch up counting practice and encourages independence too!
- Hand control. Grasping and manipulating different tools, objects and textures will strengthen hand control and finger strength. Let your child roll out the dough with their hands, peel the fruit, and try (safe) tools! My son recently surprised me with his use of a cookie scoop, I had no idea he could do it & it was awesome to watch!
I would love to hear about your experiences with little helpers in the kitchen. Do you have a favorite recipe to make with your children? Leave a comment below and let me know!
I just asked my son about his favorite thing to help make in the kitchen and he said “pie!” which I totally forgot he helped me make for this past Thanksgiving! Even if mom brain prevents you from remembering, they will! This is also why taking photos is important!