I LOVE to cook. It's actually an activity that all 3 of us enjoy, often together. Eli LOVES to be in the kitchen, helping to cook. It goes well with another of his hobbies (eating everything in sight). We've tried to really let him do as much as he's ready to do, and we seem to be reaping huge benefits. I thought I would share what we've seen Eli learning (as well as some lessons we hope he's learning).
First, Eli is at an age where he would rather be with us than play by himself. We enjoy his company, and it's nice to have quality time together while also taking care of everyday stuff.
Eli will eat ANYTHING that he's helped to prepare...and he's excited about it. He's always been a good eater, but it's nice to see such enthusiasm for his own creations.
Eli learns a lot about ingredients, too. He loves to smell spices and to be told what they are. He knows several spice combinations that we use frequently. We often taste a bit of a spice or ingredient as we add it to a mixture so that he learns individual tastes.
Eli has an appreciation for where his food comes from. There's nothing like seeing the pride on my son's face as he trims some parsley that he grew from seed so that we can add it to our lunch or dinner.
He's also learning that we reap what we sow on a less literal level. If we put great ingredients together and cook them well, we'll get a great meal. If we skip steps or skimp on ingredients, we don't get a great meal. In other words, he's experiencing cause and effect.
Eli is learning a lot about kitchen safety. He understands to be careful around hot dishes and sharp objects. He knows that the oven and knife block are completely off limits (we sometimes let him stir ingredients on the stove). We let him use a small electric skillet on occasion (with supervision) and this has gone a long way toward teaching him how to safely work with heat.
Did I mention that basic math begins in the kitchen? From measurement to estimation to proportions, math is embedded in all of our cooking. Eli likes to cut food into shapes and to experiment with how to create certain shapes. Eli is currently learning the difference between units (cup vs tablespoons vs teaspoons) and how to measure with measuring cups. He is also learning the value of a timer!
Reading recipes together reinforces the importance of reading and following directions in a logical manner.
Sometimes new recipes flop. Eli's learning that it's okay to take risks and try new things....and sometimes our best efforts don't work out. He's learning that having a backup plan is often a great idea! He's also learning that trying things can be absolutely delicious, and that improvising and creativity can go a long way to creating something amazing.
He is learning how to use kitchen tools and is refining his motor skills. He uses a tiny pair of scissors to cut some ingredients, like green onions, chives, and parsley. He uses a butter knife to slice melon, bananas, zucchini squash, etc. He has become great at cracking eggs, peeling hard boiled eggs, washing produce, and peeling carrots and cucumbers. He loves to use measuring cups, stirring spoons and his spatula.
He is learning a lot of science. From obvious science, such as how heat or cooling changes food and how ingredients interact with one another to less obvious (but still important) scientific ideas such as experimentation and hypothesizing. We often ask questions: for example, what would happen to the taste of a dish if we add a new ingredient, or what ingredient might make this dish better?
The other things Patrick and I notice is that Eli seems to feel very confident and capable in the kitchen. He started with such small tasks like washing carrots or tomatoes, which is why it is amazing to see how sure of himself that he is now...even with more difficult tasks, like scrambling an egg in his skillet while we watch.
Patrick and I are preparing to expand the ways we encourage Eli in the kitchen. At this point, for many tasks, Eli is very independent. We are going to put in a small work station that is his size, complete with small utensils (whisk, tongs, fondant roller, etc). To date, Eli's been using a step stool to reach the countertops. We will still do this (probably a lot), but there's something to be said for Eli having his own tools and workspace for certain tasks. We found an inexpensive ($30) child's table with a folding chair that we plan on placing in our kitchen for him. We had a couple child size utensils already...but recently found a few more at our local dollar store...and they are adorable and functional.
It is lovely to see our son take such an interest and pride in the kitchen, and I hope he continues!