Today’s Learning with Little Ones post is from my friend Kristin. Kristin is a mom of 5 little ones and blogs at Bits and Pieces from My Life.
My son, Owen, is eight and he wants to own a bakery when he grows up. One Saturday morning, he asked to make chocolate chip cookies with his older sister who is 10. I was on my way to take a shower but I knew they both had experience in the kitchen so I said, “Go for it and I’ll bake them for you when I’m done in the bathroom.” They happily worked while I showered, dreaming of cookies for dessert.
When I put the first pan into the oven for them, I noticed the dough balls looked a little shiny and slid around on the pan a bit. A few minutes later, a strange smell emerged from the oven. The cookies still had five minutes to go and yet they smelled burned. To make a long story short, when the kids measure the ingredients for the cookies, they interpreted 2¼ cups of flour as two ¼ cups! The result was a greasy, globby mess of inedible dough. The next weekend, they asked for another chance and the cookies turned out chewy in the center with crispy edges– perfection!
It wasn’t long ago that I avoided having my kids in the kitchen. Sure, I let them do some mixing or helping on occasion, but asking for their help or letting them take over a recipe made me cringe because I could work so much faster and more neatly on my own. Admittedly I still feel that way, but I’m learning the benefits of welcoming my kids into the kitchen and I’ve developed a few tips to make it pleasurable for all of us.
1) Limit helpers to 1-2 kids at a time.
It’s overwhelming to oversee more than a few tasks at once so let your helpers rotate. Of course, you can make exceptions for special events like decorating Christmas cookies.
2) Teach kitchen safety early in the process.
If your kids know to wash their hands after handling raw meat, if they can use a knife carefully, and if they keep their fingers away from hot surfaces, you can concentrate on the fun aspects of cooking without reviewing the tedious details.
3) Look for opportunities to initiate time in the kitchen with your kids so that you can say “no” without guilt when it is less convenient.
Plan ahead and ask a child to help you toss a salad, knead the bread, or add toppings to the oatmeal. Teach them to cut out cookies or brown ground beef or preheat the oven on a day when you are relaxed and not in a hurry. On a stressful, busy evening, you can choose to work alone with no regret. (Or maybe you will have trained your children so well that they can perform big tasks independently and you can thank them gratefully!)
Which leads us to…
4) Allow your kids to work towards self-sufficiency.
While you are nearby to offer assistance, give your kids kitchen jobs to perform alone. A 7-year-old can read a basic recipe. An 8-year-old can slice cucumber. A 10-year-old can open cans, drain and rinse beans, and start a pot of soup!
5) Answer all questions, but allow kids to make their own mistakes.
(Look away or leave the room if necessary!) I tend to meddle when my kids cooks, but I’m learning to let them go to figure things out on their own. It builds their confidence and helps them develop their own style, too.
Kristin is a blogger at Bits and Pieces From My Life. She writes about life with 5 kids, homeschooling, books, more books, food, and running. Her newest eBook Books for Christmas: What to Buy the Young People in Your Life will be available for free download on November 3. You can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest.