Cooking contributes to four major areas of children’s development and learning: literacy, social emotional, physical, and cognitive. When children are allowed hands-on cooking experiences, they learn both how food is prepared and also how it promotes good health. This sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. In a quality childcare environment, cooking is a key part of the program.
When children have the opportunity to make their own snacks, they engage in meaningful language development. They learn a broad vocabulary, with words such as ingredients, recipe, baste, mix, spread, knead, dice, roll, whip, blend, etc. Children will connect language to pictures, a significant step towards reading and writing.
Children talk a lot about what they are doing and why. Social skills form as they learn to work together. Positive relationships begin to develop with their peers. Taking turns, sharing, and working in group situations begin to blossom. Sitting together and eating family style builds the classroom community and promotes friendship.
As children experiment with a variety of foods from different culture, often introduced by their friends and teachers, they learn to respect and appreciate the individuality within their classroom. This contributes to social emotional development that builds positive relationships.
A third key area of development is fine motor/physical coordination. Skills such as cutting banana slices, whipping eggs or spreading apple butter on toast are ways to strengthen children’s fine motor and eye/hand coordination in a fun, engaging way.
The fourth area of growth and development children learn while cooking is cognitive development. Cooking activities inspire children’s curiosity and critical thinking skills. For example, watching a liquid jello mixture turn into a solid or squeezing lemons to make lemonade help children learn cause and effect.
Math opportunities are plentiful when children engage in cooking opportunities. Ask the children to divide the crackers and cheese so each child receives three. Strengthen problem-solving by giving the children a challenge: “You have one apple and three children eating. How many slices should be given to each child?” Encourage the children to set the table so each child receives one plate, one cup, etc. All of these activities teach one to one correspondence.
A quality childcare program recognizes parents as the children’s first and most important teacher. Since we all need to eat, cooking is already part of your home life. Involve your children in the process and see how much fun and learning takes place! Here are some fun, easy recipes to try with your child: ants on a log, fresh squeezed orange juice, lettuce wraps, cheese shapes from cookie cutters, or making a trail mix.
The best thing about cooking is that it entertains children and helps them gain lifelong skills at the same time. Who knows? You may even have a future professional chef in your family!