Experts estimate that “the brain makes the most connections among its cells before your child turns 10.” Additionally, it has been shown that “the brain builds itself based on repetitive sensory experiences.” Knowing these two facts alone is enough to assert the importance of learning outside of the classroom. While at home, it is essential to provide children with as many opportunities as possible to learn about the world around them. One excellent place to start teaching your child is in the kitchen.
However, since keeping your kids safe in every area of life is a top goal for almost every parent, the idea of letting your child help in the kitchen can cause anxiety. Rest assured that by taking the right precautions, and knowing what your child can safely do in advance, you can create a safe learning environment for your child.
The CDC states that by age 2, your child likely “follows simple instructions,” “follows two-step instructions,” “points to things in a book,” and “shows more and more independence.” As a result, teaching kitchen appliance safety and the most basic cooking and baking techniques becomes possible at this age. Begin by talking about safety around the stove/oven, and around sharp objects. While you should be ensuring that your child doesn’t have access to these things, it is still crucial to have a serious talk about the dangers found in the kitchen. As far as beginning lessons on how to cook/bake, children at this age can take on simple tasks such as measuring ingredients, stirring mixtures, using cookie cutters, pouring ingredients into bowls, and helping wash produce items.
Kids between the ages of 5 through 7 begin to “use a fork and spoon and sometimes a table knife,” “show rapid development of mental skills,” and “show more independence from parents and family.” This age group can take on a more challenging set of skills in the kitchen, and can better comprehend kitchen safety. Food safety concepts can even be introduced at this age as well. Help your child master detailed skills such as using a vegetable peeler, operating the microwave, grating cheese, and using the stove top to cook simple foods.
Children who have reached middle to late childhood exhibit improved attention spans and focus, and can understand and follow detailed instructions. Depending on your child’s level of experience and maturity, he or she may be able to follow full (yet basic) recipes, safely use real kitchen knives, place dishes into the oven, independently use the stove top (still with some supervision), and use various kitchen appliances (such as a blender or food processor).
Although your child’s abilities and readiness can vary from this list, the above are appropriate recommendations based on typical developmental milestones. At every age, always be sure that you are supervising your child’s activities, and continue the discussion of safe food prep. Also teach your child about what to do in the event of an injury or fire. With a bit of preparation and knowledge, you can safely teach your child in the kitchen.