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When it is too cold to play outside, it is time to get creative inside. A great way to engage children is to help them cook something warm and cozy in the kitchen. Cooking is especially enjoyable for children because it requires using all five senses. They see the foods and prepare them with their own hands. They can hear foods popping or sizzling in the pan and smell the aromas. Finally, the best part is they get to taste their finished product.
Cooking provides new and challenging tasks that are not too difficult for a child to accomplish under correct supervision. Cooking activities help build both fine and gross motor skills. Whisking, cutting or measuring with teaspoons and tablespoons gives practice to wrist and finger muscles. Stirring, pouring and ladling uses shoulder and arm muscles associated with gross motor skills. When cooking at home, parents should stay close and gently guide children in the process.
Food preparation also requires math and science skills. Children can practice simple math by learning about amounts and measurements and the concepts of more and less. They can hypothesize about what might happen next when a recipe gets changed. They also have a front row seat to watch changes as they occur.
A special learning benefit is to encourage tasting new and different foods. Children may be more inclined to try a greater variety of foods if they are actively involved in preparing it.
Children of almost any age can help in the kitchen. Sharp knives should not be used, unless the youth is an experienced cook. A plastic, serrated knife may be a safer option for younger children. Ovens and electric burners should never be used without adult supervision. Take time to talk with children about hot appliances such as when they should and should not be used, and how long they stay hot after being turned off. Cooking also is a good opportunity for children to practice safeguards such as health, safety and cleanliness.
Cooking is a great opportunity to bond and opens the door for discussion, creativity and learning. During the holiday season, extra days spent at home can be a great time to start the process of learning how to cook.
For Washington County 4-H members, the 4-H Food Stars Club is accepting members through the month of December. Their next meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 11, 3:30-5 p.m. at the Washington County Extension Office. This year, the club will be divided into beginning and advanced sessions, although some activities may be held on the same day.
For more information, contact the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service at 336-7741. Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.