Dear Doctors Beasley,
Is there a “right” age to let kids help out in the kitchen? My children (ages 3 and 6) are asking, but I’m resisting because I’m always in such a hurry.
It’s never too early for kids in the kitchen! There are many lessons to learn and fun memories to create. Very young children delight in the clanging of metal pots and pans against each other. Toddlers love to “help” cook by stirring batter at the kitchen table away from dangerous appliances like the stovetop. Pre-schoolers love to concoct strange things such as peanut butter play dough (see recipe below). Young school children enjoy setting the family table and helping with simple preparations.
The family kitchen is also an excellent math laboratory. Children learn about measuring and following directions as they assist the family cook.
Children also learn to sort and categorize in the kitchen. They can sort vegetables by color, size, or texture. They can sort canned goods by content, size of container, or color of label.
And what child doesn’t delight in nibbling at some of the ingredients along the way? Most adults entertain warm memories of helping mother, dad, or grandmother in the kitchen as a child.
Perhaps the best reason to let your children help you in the kitchen is because we often form childhood memories based on food. Stewart’s grandmother was from the old school and baked bread in her kitchen weekly. He remembers smelling the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread in his grandmother’s front yard before he even entered her home.
Family psychologists and family relations specialists have always considered family mealtimes to be important family events. Family decisions can be discussed and a consensus reached around the family dining table. Talking about each family member’s day joins everyone together and helps the family function as a unit.
Family meals offer a good time to plan the week’s events. Planning provides structure for family members and assists everyone in feeling a part of the family unit.
Drs. Lori and Stewart:
Parents often miss daily opportunities to bond with their children. In our hurry to get through the day, we miss chances that allow our children to reach out to us. Remember that life is not a dress rehearsal. Today will soon give way to tomorrow, and the future should not overshadow the present moment. Share your kitchen—and your heart—with your child today.
Peanut Butter Play Dough
- 2 ½ cups peanut butter
- 2 T. honey
- 2 cups powdered milk
- Mix well with clean hands.
- Keep adding powdered milk until the dough feels soft, not sticky. Play dough may be eaten.
- Cocoa or carob powder can be added for chocolate flavor
- Raisins, miniature marshmallows, or chopped peanuts may be added or used to decorate finished shapes.
Stewart Beasley, Ph.D. is a Family Psychologist in private practice in Edmond and Oklahoma City, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the OU Medical School, Adjunct professor of Family and Child Development at UCO, and the father of three. Lori Beasley, Ed.D, is Associate Professor of Family Life Education at the University of Central Oklahoma and the mother of (the same!) three children.