Cooking and Baking with Young Children

Is it just me, or are some of your fondest memories getting to cook as a child? But, does the thought of cooking and baking with toddlers make you cringe thinking of the mess?

Head to toe covered in flour and sugar,

                 eggs stuck on the ceiling…

                                           chocolate chips up the nose…

Of course it’s never that bad, and cooking and baking can be quite fun, even for us! There are two pieces of advice I have for you when you are cooking and baking with toddlers and preschoolers

  1. img_1221Before you start… mentally prepare beforehand and accept the mess. I’m being dramatic of course, but realize it is going to be messy, and messy experiences are good for our kids. Hopefully you’ll have so much fun that it won’t really be that big of a deal in the end anyway! And…
  2. Let go of the end result… commit this experience to your child’s learning and the experience you will have together. It’s also best to not count on your finished product being for something or someone- unless you are ok with imperfection. If it is an activity just for you and your child it will be easy to remind yourself that it’s ok if your Christmas cookies are too thick with tie die smears of frosting, or if your peanut butter balls look more like peanut butter blobs… the process is more important than the product!

Cooking and baking with young kids is such a rich and fun experience for them. I’ve never been around a young child who didn’t want to help in the kitchen. Let’s talk about some of the learning opportunities that take place in a cooking and baking activity…

img_1047Fine motor is probably one of the first I think of, from stirring a cupcake batter, rolling a cookie into a ball, or sprinkling in a pinch of salt, all of these activities are forcing those little muscles to work. These are the same muscles that they will later use to hold a pencil when they are learning to write. Let your child scoop, dump, pour, pinch, roll, squish, pat, tear, crush, mash, and shake as much as they can! Give assistance as it is needed for younger toddlers, demonstrate as needed for older toddlers, but then give them space to experiment on their own.
IMG_0271The next thing I think of is the sensory experience. It’s fun and important for kids to get messy every now and then to experience different textures. When you have the chance give your child the words to express what they are feeling… “that is so slimy!” “this peanut butter is sticky,” or “these crackers are really crunchy.” Also keep in mind that it’s really easy to get stuck in the mindset that sensory experiences are only those things that we touch, but keep in mind that sensory experiences can and should include all of our senses! Look for opportunities to point out something that you are smelling, like vanilla or peppermint extract, herbs and spices, or anything as it bakes in the oven. We can also have sensory experiences through what we are seeing, in things like colors and shapes. And of courseimg_1392 one of the more fun senses to explore while doing a cooking activity is taste! When it’s safe (ie. no raw eggs or meat, or anything that might be icky for a child’s tummy) try and see how individual ingredients taste, compare a little salt and sugar, lick the pudding bowl, or when you’re making cookies… that heavenly concoction of brown sugar and butter, right before you add the eggs, yuuuummmm!

Two of the less obvious experiences going on in a cooking and baking activity is early math and early science. You might be thinking I’m crazy to even talk about science and math for a toddler or preschooler, but keep in mind we are talking about the very early building blocks of these areas of learning. Even though we aren’t teaching our children what volume is, or how to use numbers in adding or subtracting, or the fact that they are really doing a science experiment by combining img_1388ingredients… they are gaining that experience every time they fill a measuring cup with flour, or a teaspoon with salt.   Every time they help or hear you count in the number of eggs, and every time they see their ingredients transform over time in the oven, they are making those connections in their brain that they can build on later in their learning.

I love when it’s Fridays and we get to do a cooking activity together- it always feels like we saved the most fun for last! My kids love it, and I’m not going to lie, I look forward to the treat that we get to enjoy just as much as my kids! I’m by no means a food blogger or professional cook, but I have done my best in adapting most of the recipes to combine things I grew up with, things I’ve seen over the years, and things that I’ve learned in my own cooking experiences. If it makes sense to use your cookie recipe instead of mine, by all means, use your recipe. What I have provided is part of a plan, just the springboard for you to add in things that are meaningful to your family. And remember, ultimately, aside from all of the learning processes going on in these activities, the main goal is that you both enjoy one another and create meaningful experiences that just happen to take place in the kitchen. Happy cooking!