Stillwater News Press

March 31, 2010

Cooking can be an educational experience for children

Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — If you are looking for a fun activity to do with your child, look no further than the kitchen.

When children are directly involved they can learn a lot about their world, said Deana Hildebrand, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

Before getting started, make sure your child has a sturdy stool to stand on at the cabinet, or prepare foods at a low table. Keep in mind that an adult needs to be present at all times to provide supervision and ensure safety.

“Cooking allows children to use all five of their senses. Using descriptive words to talk about what you see, feel, hear, smell and taste can help expand a child’s vocabulary,” Hildebrand said. “Talk with your child about the colors of foods, especially colorful fruits and vegetables. Foods often have different textures, so be sure to talk about foods that are bumpy, soft, hard and squishy.”

Give the sense of smell a workout by comparing the smells of vanilla, cinnamon and garlic. Enhance listening skills by listening to the sounds of corn popping and eggs cracking. Energize the taste buds to see if foods are sweet, tart or salty.

Hildebrand said cooking also provides children the opportunity to develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Help your child feel successful in the kitchen by engaging them in age-appropriate tasks.

Two-year-olds can scrub potatoes and vegetables, wash and tear lettuce, break bread into pieces, stir thin liquids such as pancake batters and gelatins, shake a drink in a closed container, clean the cutting board and put waste in the garbage after cooking, Hildebrand said.

“Three-year-olds are really learning how to use their hands, so ask them to help pour liquids from measuring cups into bowls, pat brown sugar in the measuring cup, spoon flour out of the bag, spread butter or other spreads, knead dough and peel bananas,” she said. “Juice citrus fruits, peel hard boiled eggs or onions, cut soft foods with a plastic knife, measure dry ingredients, press cookie cutters into dough and set and clear the table are skills geared toward 4- and 5-year-olds.”

Showing children how to read recipes from top to bottom and left to right is a way parents can help develop pre-reading skills. Measuring and counting helps develop math skills. In addition, cooking gives children first-hand experience at watching foods change.

“One of the greatest benefits of cooking with children is increasing their interest in trying new and different foods,” she said. “They’re more likely to try new things if they’ve helped prepare them.”

Hildebrand said cooking can be messy and being relaxed about messes and mistakes role models a positive attitude toward trying new things and can open the door for discussion, creativity and learning.