Even though it is often messy, involving your kids in the kitchen is a great way to give them opportunities for real-life learning without spending a lot of extra time or money.Do you ever feel like it’s a lot of work to teach your child? Pinterest abounds with ideas of crafts, games, and other activities to promote your child’s literacy, numeracy, gross motor, fine motor, STEAM, and who-knows-what-else. But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to do fancy activities to teach your child.
Don’t get me wrong, some of those Pinterest activities are fun, and if you have the time and inclination to do them, GREAT! I have a bunch here on the blog that my kids and I have enjoyed. Especially when structured activities are play-based, they can be a great way to introduce your child to new ideas or skills.
However, some of the best, most effective ways for kids to learn is when they’re just living their daily lives.
The importance of real-life learning experiences
Experts call it “incidental learning,” which is basically unplanned, unstructured learning that naturally arises from doing other activities (source).
Example: You’re out for a walk with your kiddos, and your little one asks, “Mom, what’s that?” You respond, “It’s a robin bird. See how it’s tummy is that reddish color? That’s how you know a robin.” That’s incidental learning.
Another example: Your child is playing with blocks. Through trial and error, he learns that if he puts bigger blocks on the bottom, it’s easier to build a taller tower. He’s learning about gravity and engineering without anyone giving him a worksheet or text book.
It’s easy to see why this kind of learning is so effective. When kids can connect knowledge to something in their real lives, they are more likely to make more meaning from it and retain the information.
Learning on the run
Because learning in context is SO important and because sometimes I think we as parents feel obligated to involve ourselves and our children in complex, Pinterest-inspired activities, I’m starting a new series here on the blog entitled “Learning on the Run.”
My goal is to help parents recognize that learning opportunities exist all around us in everyday life. By doing so, I hope that you will be able to create more real-life based, hands-on opportunities for learning with your child. It takes almost no extra time to do this. Mostly, it just takes being willing to actively involve your child in some of the activities you do every day.
Our first topic for “Learning on the Run”? The kitchen!
Ever since Little Man (now 4 1/2) could push a chair over to the counter, he has been my little sous chef. He loves cooking with me in the kitchen. With the addition of Little Brother, I now have two very enthusiastic assistants (who sometimes get a little TOO passionate about their jobs resulting in some pretty big messes). Having two helpers in the kitchen is tricky at times, but I try to give them opportunities to work alongside me as much as possible.
As we’ve cooked together over the years, I’ve realized how many “school” skills they learn in the process. A kitchen is just a really yummy science lab after all, right? Kids can learn about how temperature affects food, how ingredients dissolve and combine, safety practices, and more! Below is a list of ideas for tasks that even toddlers can do in the kitchen as well as what they learn by getting involved.
6 tasks your toddler can help with in the kitchen
& what they’ll learn in the process.
1. Identifying the right ingredient.
When I cook with kids, I often try to get out all the ingredients before we start (it makes things more efficient…and it’s amazing the trouble a two-year-old can get into in the amount of time it takes me to get the flour bucket out of the pantry). Once they are all on the counter, I like to have my kids help identify the right ingredient. How do you know the sugar from the salt? I read the package labels to them, and we talk about the different appearance of the packages, too. Pre-reading skills, increasing vocabulary, deductive reasoning…it’s good stuff.
2. Counting and dumping ingredients
While your toddler might not be able to measure on his own, you can have your child help you count each cup of flour as you scoop, and then let your child help dump it in the bowl. Little Man’s favorite has always been cracking eggs. He puts his hand over the top of my hand and we count 1-2-3-crack! Then we count the yolks in the bowl to see if we have the right number. Simple math skills in real life!
Stirring is such a great fine motor skill! Holding the spoon, moving in a circular motion, and exercising self-control to stir gently without splashing the contents all over is a good challenge for toddlers. Whisking is even better because it doesn’t tend to splash as much.
4. Directing you!
Give your toddler the job of telling you while muffin tin to fill next with batter, or when to dump the next ingredient in the bowl. Kids spend so much time being told what to do. Giving them small opportunities to be in charge builds their confidence and develops critical thinking skills.
5. Unwrapping things
My two-year-old LOVES to unwrap sticks of butter. It’s his official job when we cook. It’s turns out it’s pretty tricky for him, too, but what a great way to practice fine-motor skills.
6. “Washing” the dishes
As long as you keep the knives out of reach, give your kids a chance to wash the dishes. Squirt some soap, give them a scrubber, and let them clean/play. You’ll likely still have to do the dishes for real, but soap and water are a great science lab for kids.
These are just a few of the ways that I get my kids involved in the kitchen.
Want some ideas for kid-friendly recipes to cook together? Try these!
No bake healthy granola bites (our favorite snack!)
Chocolate chip applesauce cake
I regularly link up here.
Love having the kids in the kitchen too! So messy, haha, but they looove it!
Tabitha, I have learned that if I go into cooking with my kids KNOWING that it will be messy, I don’t mind as much. I just don’t do it right after I washed the floor. 🙂
My 4 year old is my little chef and loves to help cook. Great ideas!
Thanks, Jessica! My four-year-old is getting pretty good at cooking with me, and I love watching his skills improve. He can just about crack an egg by himself now!
Loved this post! I always try to bring my little guy in on my daily tasks and chores to teach him – thankfully he loves it! Hopefully that lasts!! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Brit. I love getting my kids involved in other chores, too. Little Man is a pro at emptying the dishwasher and taking out the trash, and I love that I can get some household tasks done while still spending time with my boys.
This is a great reminder. Sometimes I get too caught up in wanting to hurry and get things done, but my girls love helping in the kitchen!!
I know it, Patricia. I don’t always let my boys cook with me, but when I am able to slow down a little, they love it…and they’re more likely to eat what we cook together, too. Bonus!
I LOVE not only teaching on the go… but cooking with my kids. They love it and it is a great way for us to bond! I never thought about using it to help them count! Great idea!
It really does amaze me when I stop to think about how many little skills (like counting) are waiting to be capitalized on in daily tasks I do with my kids. There are opportunities for learning everywhere!
Vicki @ Babies to Bookworms
My daughter is 19 months old and she loves cooking right now! She pulls out her stool and apron and says “cooking! cooking!”. It may be messier and harder to keep your eye on everything, but it is completely worthwhile!
Vicki, how cute! It sounds like you’ve got a great little chef to help you.
I’m interested in this series, because these things don’t come naturally to me. While I love letting the kids help me cook, I hate the disaster that ensues!
Rochelle, I hear ya! I have to restrain myself from getting annoyed when they spill the flour or smear the counters with batter, but I love watching them develop new skills and feel proud of being able to contribute to something for our family. It’s an exercise in patience for sure, but worth it in the end!
Definitely a good reminder for me to slow down and involve my kids in the kitchen more. They’ll enjoy it and get a lot out of it.
cooking together is also big fun for my and my girl.