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Cooking helps kids develop cognitive and hand skills



Toddlers, pre-schoolers, and kids with special needs can benefit from helping parents cook

Toddlers, pre-schoolers, and kids with special needs can benefit from helping parents cook


Fine motor skills enable us to tie shoes, fasten buttons, operate zippers and grasp a pencil. They also help children develop their cognitive relationship with the world. Among the activities that teach small children to use their hands are many of the movements involved in cooking and baking: stirring, kneading, pouring, squeezing. These actions also strengthen the muscles of the hands and arms, especially important for kids with special needs.

Other aspects of cooking can teach holding still, measuring, counting, discrimination, and much more. Here are some ideas for making the most of cooking with your kids.

Use an easy recipe. Start with a simple project like making a smoothie in the blender or baking the most basic of cookies. The more hands-on your child can be, the more you'll both enjoy the process. Following a recipe provides chances to learn about sequencing, following directions, and memory.

READ MORE: Kids in the kitchen

Point out sensations. Describe how ingredients feel as both of you touch them. Talk about smells. Associating words and experiences will support cognitive development and add to vocabulary.

Give your child the freedom to explore. As much as possible, avoid holding your child's hand during picking up and pouring ingredients. Even if there's a bit of spillage, it's their chance to exercise and practice their hand skills. Don't be in a rush. Encourage your child to talk about what's happening.

Take turns stirring, kneading, etc. Stirring batter with a spoon develops forearm strength and control. Be aware that a thick batter will be more difficult to stir. Let your child stir as long as possible, but if you need to take over, you can always give them another chance after they've had a rest. Activities that develop hand strength include kneading dough and squeezing icing pouches. For coordinating both hands, try rolling dough out with a rolling pin or unscrewing lids from jars.

Measure and count. Show your child teaspoons and measuring cups, pointing out the size relationships and how they're used. As you add items or scoops to the bowl, count out loud.

READ MORE: Recipes from The Catskills Farm to Table Cookbook by Courtney Wade

Discuss flavor. When the food is ready to eat, talk about how it tastes and how it crunches or slides down the throat. Be sure to celebrate your creation together!

Editor’s note: When my sons were six and nine, I began to work fulltime. It became so overwhelming for me that I asked my kids if they would help with the cooking. Each chose a night to cook dinner, (A better word would be to prepare dinner, because sometimes there was no cooking involved.) They would give me a shopping list of what items they needed for their next dinner. I will never forget my youngest son’s first dinner.  He got frozen pigs in the blanket which he heated in the toaster oven and mac ‘n cheese which he ‘cooked’ in the microwave. Definitely fun. Definitely high in carbs. Definitely not a balanced meal. But we all enjoyed it just the same.

We also found a chart called Fine Motor Skills in the Kitchen. It lists the actions your child can practice and which part of the body it impacts.
 



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