Learning in the Kitchen – 9 Skills Toddlers Learn When They Work in the Kitchen Using a Guidecraft Kitchen Helper
Kitchens are ideal environments for nurturing a child’s early development and love for learning. They are hands-on classrooms in a real-life setting where children can observe adults at work, engage their senses, develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and apply language and math skills. A sturdy step stool like the Kitchen Helper offers a safe and secure space within the kitchen in which children can learn. Here are a few ways that spending time in the kitchen can help a child flourish, while fostering a child’s connection to the food that goes in their bodies.
Children are so accustomed to adults choosing and preparing the foods they eat. When children are given the opportunity to prepare food by and for themselves, it is an empowering experience that builds their confidence and sense of autonomy. One way to encourage independent food preparation is by designating a space at the counter and stocking it with a selection of raw snacks and tools that your child is able to use safely and independently. Come snack time, children can prepare a snack of their choosing — perhaps slicing their own cucumbers or hulling their own strawberries.
Many kitchen tasks require an ability to focus that is important for a young child’s growth and development. Witness the look of concentration on a child’s face while peeling an entire carrot — carefully moving a peeler from top to bottom, again and again, adjusting the grip until arriving at a perfect hold. Young children have an innate ability to focus on work when given the space and time to do so — and a safe, secure step stool like the Kitchen Helper better enables a child to focus on tasks fully and to completion.
Kitchens are a unique space in the home where children may explore all five senses at the same time. Touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing foods are so helpful for sensory development and fulfill a child’s need for hands-on learning. Utensils and appliances are part of a kitchen’s sensory landscape, as well, whether it’s the scrape of a whisk against a metal bowl or the landing tap of a knife while slicing bananas.
Cooking with your child is also a wonderful way to encourage more adventurous eating. Children are naturally curious about new foods and are more likely to taste a new food on their own when they are consistently exposed to the food without immediate pressure to eat it.
Food prep tasks lend themselves perfectly to the development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Pouring liquid into a measuring cup develops hand control and coordination. Stirring batter strengthens forearm control. Kneading dough develops hand strength. Peeling clementines or hard-boiled eggs allows children to practice their pincer grip. Slicing, chopping, spiralizing and transferring with tongs are all helpful for improving dexterity.
Cooking with children provides an opportunity to enrich their vocabulary and demonstrate how we use language to describe our actions and thoughts. Explain what you are doing as you cook and use open-ended questions to ask children what they are doing. Name each ingredient. Use adjectives to describe how things taste or smell. Identify the different parts of foods and utensils, like the tine of a fork or a floret of broccoli. Use words like “first,” “then” and “finally” to introduce sequential language. Cooking vocabulary is rich with unique words that a child will delight in, as well as practical language that children can use beyond the kitchen.
Cooking is a prime opportunity for children to learn or apply mathematical concepts in a concrete way. Count out loud together as you measure teaspoons or crack eggs. Use subtraction when calculating how much time is left for baking cookies. Introduce fractions when slicing pizza. Demonstrate the concept of greater and less than when measuring ingredients, or how to think spatially when rotating a cookie cutter to fit one more shape into the dough. There are so many organic — and fun! — ways to integrate math into cooking and baking.
Since cooking is essentially a science, the kitchen is also a lab in which children can learn scientific concepts through real-life practice. A child may observe changes in consistency and color as ingredients are added to a mixture, or that baked goods rise when heated up in the oven. Encourage your child to pay attention to the different properties of foods. Showing your child how to observe in the kitchen will ignite their curiosity and help teach scientific concepts in a tangible way.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive to some adults, inviting children up to the counter and granting full access to ingredients that are typically “off limits” will offer them an opportunity to learn self-regulation. Rather than keeping sugar, butter or chocolate chips out of a child’s reach, talk to your child about self-control and the importance of, say, eating just a few chocolate chips, as opposed to a large handful. Point out examples of when you have shown self-control and explain why it was a good choice. Children can only learn to self-regulate if presented with opportunities to practice it in the first place.
Asking children to help clean messes in the kitchen will foster their sense of personal responsibility. Show how you gather food scraps and where to deposit them. Demonstrate how to sweep crumbs off the counter and wipe down counters with a sponge. Young children often do not see cleaning as a chore, but rather as an exciting challenge with a clear and achievable goal.
To learn more about the Martha Stewart Kitchen Helper collaboration, and to read more about why the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper is a must-have toddler product, click HERE.