’Tis the season for holiday traditions, family get-togethers, and likely a lot of time in the kitchen!
Between turkey dinners, baking exchanges, and holiday treats, food is often one of the main attractions this time of year. Do you do any of your holiday cooking with kids? If you don’t yet, you may want to consider making it a new tradition!
I enjoy including my kids in the kitchen. Yes, it creates more work for me and it usually takes longer. Yes, it can get messy. And yes, most of the time the final product does not turn out exactly the way I had hoped. But, if I take a minute to remind myself of all the ways they can benefit, the extra mess and work don’t seem as much of a burden.
Let me explain…
Kitchen tasks involve basic functional movements that are needed for many everyday activities.
Working in the kitchen provides your child lots of opportunity to use their hands in a coordinated way (known in therapy lingo as bilateral coordination). Using a rolling pin, stabilizing a bowl with one hand while mixing with the other, and rolling balls of dough are all examples of this. Bilateral coordination is important because it is also instrumental in dressing skills, many gross motor activities, and fine motor skills, such as cutting and pasting.
Scooping, pouring, and mixing improves shoulder stability and helps develop important wrist rotations, movements that are needed for fine motor tasks, such as printing and feeding. Speaking of fine motor skills, opening jars, using cookie cutters, and kneading, all help strengthen those little hands too.
Filling muffin tins or using a measuring spoon require hand-eye coordination. Similarly, spreading frosting and decorating finished products targets precision motor control and finger isolation.
That’s a lot of functional skill development going on! If I haven’t convinced you of the benefits of holiday cooking with kids yet, keep reading. There are many less obvious skills being developed, too…
It’s the perfect ‘messy play’.
Overwhelmed by the thought of giving your child free reign of a bottle of shaving cream all in the name of messy play? The kitchen is going to get messy anyway, why not embrace it and use it as a medium for some great sensory exploration?
It doesn’t get much more tactile than kneading dough or licking off gooey fingers. When possible, encourage your child to explore with their (clean!) hands and fingers. For some kids, this may be overwhelming to start with. You can start by offering a utensil, such as a wooden spoon, to explore with. Perhaps they are willing to poke it with a fingertip or smell it. Talking about the qualities of what you’re preparing also encourages language development (i.e. is it soft? Squishy? Sticky? Chunky? What colour is it? What does it smell like? etc.).
In addition to the tactile, visual, and olfactory sensory input, rolling, mixing, and kneading are all considered “heavy work” and can have a regulating effect on your child’s nervous system. Win-win!
It takes a lot of brainpower, too.
There are many cognitive processes going on when your child is learning in the kitchen with you. Following a recipe requires reading and/or listening skills, focus, attention, organization, planning, and sequencing.
It is also great practice for following multi-step directions. With younger children, start simple with two-step instructions. For example, you could say “first, scoop the sugar, then pour into the bowl”. For older children, try chunking longer directions into 3 or 4 steps. An example of this, “First, roll out the dough with the rolling pin, next press cookie cutters into the dough, and then place the cookies on the baking tray.”
Holiday cooking with kids is also a great opportunity for practicing basic math and counting skills. For younger kids, it could be as simple as one-to-one number correspondence counting how many eggs you need to crack, whereas older children may be able to start doing basic measuring conversions (i.e. 4 x 1/4c = 1 cup).
Learning new skills, being a big helper, and feeling a sense of accomplishment will boost your child’s self-esteem, problem-solving skills, and confidence!
Ultimately, it’s all about connection.
Involving your kids in the kitchen is a wonderful opportunity for quality time and connection. These special moments create memories that your children will remember for years to come. Food has a magical way of connecting us to others too. Bake cookies for your neighbours, or make a meal for a family that might be struggling this holiday season. Lead by example and model to your children ways you can give back to and love others.
My challenge to you this holiday season is to embrace the messy counters, gooey fingers, and a batch of mix-matched cookies (that may or may not have been licked by little mouths). Make holiday cooking with your kids a new part of your holiday traditions!
This article is shared by my friend Kristin from The Functional Mama (functionalmama.com). A Canadian-based (as you probably noticed ;)) pediatric Occupational Therapist with 2 adorable munchkins at home. She aims to create a community of like-minded mamas who are just looking for someone to tell them they’re doing a good job. Check out her website, say hi, and pick up a few general OT tips, strategies, and ideas. You can also connect with her on Instagram at TheFunctionalMama. She has awesome therapeutic ideas for home and a great Holiday Activity Advent Calendar.
We hope her explanation of the developmental benefits and practical outcomes of having your kiddos help in the kitchen have encouraged you to get them involved in some of the fun holiday cooking you have to prepare.
Let us know your favorite holiday recipes and what parts your child has the most fun doing.
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