Cooking is a sensory experience for children, providing these sensory experiences can give them confidence to explore the world freely. It is a chance to practice self-regulation and their ability to contain their impulses. Through following recipes, remembering ingredients, substituting ingredients, weighing and measuring children are working on their executive functioning skills. These are mental skills such as as working memory, flexible thinking and self-control. We use these skills daily to learn, work and manage our daily lives.
From birth children use their senses to make sense of the world around them. They explore through touching, tasting, seeing, hearing, smelling and moving.
Both adults and children retain more information when their senses are engaged. Many peoples favourite memories are associated with our senses eg the smell of a perfume, the taste of grandmas baking or a song you sang in assemblies in primary school. So when your senses are stimulated with those familiar sounds and smells your brain triggers a flashback memory to those special times.
Providing opportunities for children to explore their world through cooking helps to build nerve connections in the brains pathways as it is a form of sensory play. This leads to childrens ability to complete more complex learning tasks and supports language development, motor skills, problem solving skills and social interaction. Engaging in conversation with your child, describing what they are doing, asking thm questions about where the food comes from will all encourage their language and thinking skills. Fine motor and eye-hand coordination skills are developing by chopping, mixing, squeezing, and spreading. Cooking encourages children’s thinking, problem-solving, and creativity.It also allows children the opportunity to use the knowledge they have and apply it by counting,measuring, following a sequence, following directions, and cause and effect.
Two-year-olds are learning to use the large muscles in their arms and are able to do activities such as:
o Scrubbing vegetables and fruits
o Carrying unbreakable items to the table.
o Washing and tearing vegetable greens.
Three-year-olds are learning to use their hands and should be able to do activities such as:
o Pouring liquids into batter
o Mixing batter or other dry and wet ingredients together.
o Shaking a drink in a closed container.
o Spreading butters or spreads.
o Kneading dough.
o Washing vegetables and fruit.
o Serving foods.
o Putting things in the bin after cooking.
Four and five-year-olds are learning to control fine motor muscles in their fingers and some activities support this stage of development such as:
o Juicing oranges, lemons, and limes.
o Peeling some fruits and vegetables.
o Scrubbing fruits and vegetables.
o Cutting some fruits and vegetables with a child safe utensil.
o Measuring dry ingredients.
o Mixing ingredients.
o Setting the table.
o Cleaning table after cooking.
o Clearing table.
Children are developing large muscles in their arms: They will enjoy stirring and stirring and stirring. From around 2 years old, a child naturally imitates circular strokes as part of their normal physical development. So, let them stir at every opportunity.
Here are some ways to encourage arm muscle development through cooking:
Stirring: flour, eggs, pancake batter, gelatin making, etc.
Young children enjoy "patting" and "pressing": From being fascinated with "patty-cake" chants at an early age, children still love to pat and press.
I'm sure you'll recognise your cildren doing this at the park: scooping up rocks or sand, piling them up, and patting the top into different shapes. Well, here's some suggestions to bring the "patting" inside:
All children love to dip - and this develops arm muscle skills too! It takes a lot of coordination to dip! Getting the food in the dip, then moving the arm and somehow getting it into your mouth. If it wasn't difficult, they wouldn't get food all over their face! So, unless your child always has a clean face when he or she is done eating, here's some dipping opportunities: