How to teach kids kitchen skills
From very early ages, helping in the kitchen isn't just for fun, it helps develop motor skills and can introduce vocabulary and math concepts to kids. That it's tasty, too, is an awesome bonus. I love that the kids like to help me in the kitchen. Whether it's breakfast, dinner, or cookies - and especially cookies - I've tried to share my enjoyment of cooking with the kids. And given their desire to try new things on their own, I looks like I've succeeded. A good thing, yes, but also a scary thing. It also means they want to use everything in the kitchen on their own. Even the hot things, and the sharp things.
There are certain things in the kitchen my kids can do on their own, of course. Getting cereal for themselves is a no-brainer, and the the boys using blender is fine when they want to make
smoothies. I've taught them some microwave basics, too, and of course how to use things like mixers and graters and various other gadgets. The things that are potentially dangerous even when
I am using them are the things that worry me. Over the years, as we've cooked together I've made sure to take time to try to impart safe practices and safety skills, but that doesn't exactly mean
I'm ready for any of them to have free run of things.
When to give your kids freedom in the kitchen is somewhat individual. You know your child's personality best, and how much exposure they've had to various appliances and such. Only you can know for sure if your child is ready for something. I know that some kids, at a very early age, do quite a lot more in the kitchen, and that's great; I may be slightly overprotective in this realm. When we all feel comfortable with developing skills and understanding, freedom in the kitchen for the kids will happen - and I know it will happen.
Using the oven
After the blender and the microwave, next for me is the oven. I started letting my boys use the oven at about age 9. Before I gave the official go ahead, I made sure we had good, fairly long oven mitts that will protect arms as well as hands, and a review of how to set the temperature on the oven. Given the frequency with which we now have fresh cookies in the house, this has gone well. While I still prefer they not try to broil things, baking has gone just fine.
Using the stove
We have a gas stove, and that means an open flame - and that made me extra cautious. Building on the skill and confidence developed using the oven, I started letting the boys use the stove a little later. Again, we had a review of safety procedures, and the location of the fire extinguishers. Through the course of intial stove use, we had a few more burned food on the bottom pots, but no burned anywhere kids.
My threshold for using knives is less about age and more about demonstrated motor skills. My older son, now a teenager, started using knives at about 11 or 12 when I saw that he was more adept at
cutting his food at the dinner table. My younger son, for reasons we can't quite figure out, it still, um, less than graceful with the dinner table knife and fork coordination; it won't be until he
can get that down more fluidly that we'll let him use kitchen knives for chopping. My 5-year-old daughter, of course, goes no where near knives.
Like the oven and the stove, knife use has come with lots of skill review, safety procedures and extended supervision. We've made sure our knives are in good repair, and talked about what kind of knives are good for which tasks. But, still, it's knives that make me the most nervous. My oldest is the only one really using knives so far, and so far, so good. Phew.
Kids under about age 12 need supervision in the kitchen. Only now that my oldest is 13 do I let him have (some) freedom in the kitchen when parents aren't home. While my youngest, at 5, must be completley adult supervised in the kitchen, my older son can help supervise my 9 year old. Eventually, I think they'll all be great home cooks - but for now culinary freedom for my kids will happen a little bit at a time (and the results will be delicious).