Having strong motor skills helps children develop the necessary coordination to independently complete tasks like tying shoes, buttoning a shirt, working zippers, and holding a pencil. Working on fine motor skills (use of the hands) also helps young children develop cognitively and understand the world around them. This is why we do what we do at What's Cooking? It's so much more than just food- it's about LIFE.
If you have a toddler or preschooler in the house, baking can be a great activity for helping them work on fine motor development—and lots of other skills, too. In fact, baking activities present an opportunity to work on your child’s sensory development, mathematical thinking, and scientific exploration with you, right in your home. Here are some tips for cooking with toddlers and preschoolers:
This activity is all about your toddler, so pick a recipe that’s easy to make and will allow them to be very hands-on in the process. Basic cookies or a fruit smoothie would work great. We'd also suggest banana caterpillars, cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters to make shapes, and pretzel rod decorating!
As you and your toddler handle the ingredients you are using in each cooking or baking activity, observe how each feels on your hands. The word/feeling association will add another layer to the activity that will aid in their cognitive development by reinforcing vocabulary and learning while doing.
Try not to guide your child’s hand too much—allow them to scoop and place ingredients. Sensory experience in the kitchen is key! We try our best, during our Mommy/Daddy and Me classes to encourage this as much as possible- just make sure you are using age appropriate kitchen tools. When working directly with food and tools in the kitchen, your child is working on their fine motor skills and general understanding of their surrounding. Go slowly and allow your child to explore and talk about each ingredient and tool with you.
Introduce your child to different kitchen tools and talk about the different characteristics of each. Such as if one measuring cup or tool is smaller than another and what you might measure with them. Count aloud each time you scoop and place an ingredient. Do the same with ingredients on a box or package. Read words together and associate them with the tools and ingredients you are using.
When it comes time to enjoy what you've made, reinforce that the food is the outcome of the hard work you've done together in the kitchen. Encourage your toddler to try eveyrthing and then describe how it tastes. Help reinforce vocabulary learned and congratulate them on learning something new!
If you have a baby in the home who is sitting on their own, you can adapt this activity to help develop their fine motor skills as well. Instead of cooking a recipe, fill containers with different textured food items like uncooked beans, oats, or seeds. This is directly connected to sensory activities as well. Allow your baby to explore the different textures and watch you scoop and pour ingredients with a measuring cup. This simple activity will introduce them to the concept of volume and how containers can be filled and emptied.