In the past when I’ve talked about having our kids in the kitchen with me I’ve joked and said that I’m a recovering kitchen control freak. I enjoy cooking, baking treats, and trying new recipes and when our kids were little they always wanted to get in on the action. It took me a little while to warm up to the idea of having our kids in the kitchen with me but through the years I have learned that making the decision pretty early on to have our kitchen be a safe and welcoming space for them has helped them to learn some very necessary life skills. Not having to rely on someone to make you something to eat when you’re hungry and it might sound silly but being able to utilize the ingredients that we have in the pantry to make ourselves a yummy treat is an invaluable skill.
Maybe you grew up helping in the kitchen and so you have decades of practice under your belt. Or maybe for some of us we weren't in the kitchen until much later in life and are still honing our skills. Regardless it is something that has taken many years for us as adults to learn. We have learned everything from deciding what to make to gathering necessary ingredients to cleaning up. Allowing kids the opportunity to help in the kitchen no doubt requires a certain level of patience. In the beginning having their “help” made the process take so much longer but the more that they were in the kitchen the more familiar that they became with the process. And as parents we have the opportunity to help our kids learn the process through hands-on experience.
As a mom it feels like there is always something to clean up and so in the beginning part of my reluctance to letting the kids help in the kitchen was largely due to the fact that there would be extra messes to clean up and that felt daunting. When our kids are little they haven’t quite learned how to measure flour without spoonfuls of it ending up on the counter and the floor. So when our kids wanted to get in on the fun of cooking and baking, they quickly learned that cleaning up after ourselves was an important part of the process. Involving kids in the clean up process is just as important as involving them in the process of cooking and baking. Of course, in the beginning, dishes definitely weren't perfectly clean but how else were they going to learn if we didn’t let them practice?
I’ve observed over the years that the more that our kids helped in the kitchen the more confidence they built. We were able to build on their skills over time. They went from helping to scramble eggs, to measuring flour, to chopping vegetables. Eventually I was able to just sit back and casually direct the process and then suddenly it felt like one day we woke up and they were in the kitchen doing all the things from start to finish without any help from us. They could do everything from looking up the recipe to cleaning up the kitchen having built more confidence in their skills every step of the way.
Not only is learning to cook an essential life skill but it also provides so many rich learning opportunities. Think research skills... looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe. Think writing and spelling... copying down that recipe. Think math… practicing fractions by halving a recipe. So many valuable lessons all in the kitchen!