I’m sure that most would not consider cooking to be an exceptionally “educational” activity for their little ones. However, you may be surprised to learn that cooking and baking with your children offers plenty of opportunity for cognitive, emotional, and physical growth. There are many educators out there who will tell you that preschool is the ideal time to begin cooking with kids, however I believe that you can start giving them small tasks in the kitchen at whatever age you believe them to be ready. Most children are developmentally capable of helping around 14-18 months. Here are 6 benefits to cooking with young children, along with a simple play dough recipe for children of nearly any age to help make.
1. Cooking Helps to Build Fine Motor Skills: Stirring, pouring, kneading, and shaking are all fine motor skill builders, and can help with hand-eye coordination as well. The are simple yet, important tasks that can be performed by little ones as young as 14-18 months and up.
2. Cooking Can Help to Calm and Relieve Stress: If your children are anything like all other children then dinner time can be one of the most difficult times of the day (there’s a reason parents call it the witching hour/s). If you are trying to get dinner on the table and your children are frustratingly restless, ask them to help you. Give them a simple task to help you with dinner. This will help to keep them active, entertained, and calm. Tasks such as kneading and stirring are perfect for this. In my experience children become very calm while performing these tasks, and enjoy doing them for extended periods of time.
3. Cooking is an Activity That Families Can do Together: This one is fairly self-explanatory, but if both you and your spouse work, or you are a single parent, cooking dinner together is a great way to spend time together. It’s something that you have to do anyway, so why not make it a family activity?
4. Cooking Helps to Build Math and Reading Skills: As your children grow it is very important for them to recognize just how important reading is. With older children (starting around age two) you can explain to them that when you cook you follow a recipe. You have to be able to read the recipe and follow the directions in order to make the correct thing. Show them the recipe that you are using, and then as you cook show them where each step is written. When they are a little older and able to read you can give them one note card at a time each with a simple instruction on it. Cooking also helps to build math skills. Children learn what a cup is versus a tablespoon, etc. As they get older you can explain to them that 1/4 cup + 3/4 = 1 cup. You can have them pour each into 1 cup to visually show the math.
5. Cooking Helps to Build Self Esteem: This is true mostly of older children. When you help to cook/create something it gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment. You have learned several new skills, and have successfully created something delicious that you and your loved ones can then enjoy together. That’s quite an achievement for a young child!
6 Cooking is a Lifelong Skill: Cooking is a skill that you will carry with you through life, in childhood, through college, and into adulthood (and will hopefully be something you then teach your own children.) People who cook versus eat out are generally healthier and eat foods that are more nutritious for them.
Here is a very simple recipe for play dough that can get you and your children started with some basic skill building. This is something that we made this morning, and it was a huge success!
- 1 Cup flour
- 3/4 Cup water
- 1/4 Cup salt
- 1/4 Cup oil
- Spices are optional, but I used Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cloves. You can also add food coloring if you prefer.
First, bring the water to a boil. While the water is heating up mix the flour and salt in a bowl. E is 18 months old so I put the flour in a cup and let her pour it into the bowl. We did the same with the salt. When the water is finished boiling I poured it into the bowl, and let her stir it once it cooled down. I then let her pour the oil in and mix it some more. I separated into 4 balls, and let her use spice shakers to add to each ball of play dough. She LOVED doing all of these things. I let her take her time and from start to finish it all took about an hour and a half. Happy Cooking!