Developing your child’s skills in the kitchen can determine their ability to make wise food and eating choices for a lifetime. The kitchen is also a great place to work on direction following, task sequencing, fine motor skills, sensory processing, strength, and coordination through activities that are not only therapeutic, but fun and functional as well. Remember, the key is to make your cooking or baking activities more fun than they are work. This will require choosing tasks that are within your child’s level of skill and endurance, staying organized from beginning to end, and providing adequate support so that your child can be successful.
Your first consideration should be choosing a recipe that your children will be motivated by, taking into account their dietary needs and restrictions. You’ll also want to choose a recipe that won’t take longer than their attention requires, even if it means having them help with only one part of the process. Depending on their skill level, present the recipe in a format that is developmentally appropriate for your child. If they are older, a written format or presenting the instructions verbally might be appropriate. If they are younger, having the ingredients and steps in a picture format or each step on an individual index card might be more usable. The goal is to choose a method that will allow your child to be their most independent.
Next, determine the best set-up for your child. Should you have all of the ingredients gathered ahead of time, or should you encourage your child to negotiate the various obstacles in the kitchen to gather them himself? Make it a treasure hunt by giving directions and see if they can find some of the items. Give some of the information and see if they can solve the riddle – i.e. “I’m thinking of something you stir with, but it’s made out of wood, not metal.”
Your older children can even problem solve which dishes and baking utensils they might need without any clues. You may need to consider adapting the task. Stirring, pouring, lifting and spreading are great for developing strength and stability, bilateral coordination and motor skills, but we don’t want your child to get discouraged if the challenge is too great. Giving your child a smaller amount to stir, stabilizing the bowl by using a rubber bottom or rubber shelf liners, having them stir using a smaller spoon or one with a thicker handle, or reducing the amount they have to pour are all great adaptations that will leave your child feeling successful.
Your child’s position to the task may need to be adjusted as well. You know from cooking that standing is the most stable, but be sure that your child’s work surface is at an appropriate height. Using a stable footstool or standing at the kitchen table might work, but if not, sitting at the table or even on the floor could be workable alternatives.
As with many household chores, we often think it will get done faster and with less mess if we just do it ourselves. However, by getting our kids into the kitchen, we can provide opportunities for them to develop motor, language, academic and social skills while having lots of fun. They will experience a feeling of independence, self-confidence and accomplishment; and they get to spend some quality time with you. So put on your aprons, cozy up in the kitchen, and create some fun!
As part of our occupational therapy program, we work on functional skills that allow your child to do more in everyday activities. To learn more about how we can help your child reach their maximum potential, call us today or come in for a free pediatric evaluation.