Tonight as I was cooking dinner my toddler came in asking if she could help me make dinner. To be honest, my gut reaction was to tell her no and finish dinner without the "help" she could offer. When I turned to send her on her way she had already opened the drawer and was standing there with a pasta fork. I was making muffins. She may have had the wrong tool, but she was just too cute to send packing.
All too often, in the heat of the trying to get dinner made for my hungry family, I fall in to the "it's easier to just do it myself" trap, but this reminded me of all the reasons that it is good to let my kids into the kitchen to help me. Their little hands can learn so much from pitching in.
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1. They learn to cook. This seems like a no-brainer, but what a gift to give them. A foundation of cooking skills is something that will serve them and their family for their entire life and, no matter their age, now is the best time to lay that foundation!
2. They learn math skills like counting, measuring, fractions, etc. A half cup of this and 2 tablespoons of that make for lots of chances to count, add, use fractions, and divide. Not to mention if you double or triple a recipe you have an even more extensive math lab that offers lots of learning with no boring worksheets.
3. They learn to read and apply what they read. You can read the words of a recipe, but if you don't understand them and apply them correctly you will get a much different result. Cooking is a great hands-on experiment in understanding and applying what they have read.
4. They learn to follow instructions. Just like reading and applying, this is a very imperative part of following a recipe and who doesn't want their kids to learn to follow directions? Understanding appropriate order and the needs for step-by-step instruction is a very valuable lesson inside and outside of the kitchen!
5. They learn to create and share something they are proud of.
My kids are always so proud of what they make. Regardless of what tasks they can do, they feel the pride of creating and sharing that with the family.
6. They learn to try new foods.
Kids are more likely to try a dish they are proud that they just prepared so put that finicky eater in charge of something you want him to try. If it is his creation he might just give it a try without whining.
7. They learn to make healthier choices.
What a perfect venue for teaching your kids about healthy food choices! When you are in the kitchen together you have the perfect chance to help them understand how and why to make and eat healthier options.
8. They learn to ENJOY the experience and their time with you.
This is the real gold here. By the time my muffins were cooked tonight, my previously cranky toddler was giggling and chatting about her masterpiece. We laughed and talked and even slipped some learning in there, but ultimately we spent time together having fun and enjoying making something delicious. That is a blessing - to both of us.
Messy hands and spilled flour are not the end of the world and while they might add a little more effort on your part, the rewards your kids can gain from rolling up their sleeves and pitching in are worth the hassle!
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