I wrote down all the life skills my boys are gaining from cooking and the result is incredible!
I started cooking with my kids from a very young age, Eli was only two when he became an active part in the kitchen. The result of my trials and errors in teaching my very young sons to cook is the Little Cookery Cookbook.
I’ve now been cooking with my kids for over four years as well as teach kids cooking classes at schools and I’m still amazed at the life skills they developing thanks to this everyday task. I reflected on them recently, and I was so bowled over at how long the list was that I just had to share it!
The 15 life skills from cooking
The list as it stands with my fuzzy mom-brain today:
Shopping for ingredients provides invaluable lessons, like teaching kids that food is not free and usually needs to be cooked or processed before eating. That’s why I’ve included a shopping list in each of Little Cookery’s projects. They are easy to make yourself though, either cut out pictures from flyers you get in your letter box, draw them yourself or, if you child can read, write them down on a thick piece of paper.
Eli is becoming a competent little shopper, and can now not only recognise the common ingredients we use, but is also learning to differentiate based on price and type.
For example, he’ll often point out the different products in the flour aisle, noting the colour of the flour and identify with me which one’s the cheapest and the most expensive.
As a busy mom, I appreciate the convenience of internet shopping, but going to the shops can be fun with kids if they’re active participants. Any chance to get out of the house also leads to:
2. Talking to strangers
How to talk to cashiers, how to seek out hard-to-find ingredients, who to ask for help if you get lost in a shop (obviously not recommended as an activity per sé!)…all vital life skills.
3. Money handling
Goes with the shopping. Everyone needs to learn how to handle money and be responsible with it. You can use shopping trips for ingredients to get as involved as you like with teaching them about money, from adding up purchases as you go with a calculator, to just letting them get used to the feel of cash (while cash may become obsolete before he’s grown up, I make an effort to take real money with us to the supermarket so my kids get used to the physical exchange of stuff for stuff).
Kids love boundaries and security in what the can/cannot, should/should not do. If you teach kids to cook using a routine, you’ll be able to easily reinforce kitchen rules to the point where they’re telling you off if you break them!
A big part of the book is written to guide grownups (educators, parents, grandparents) in creating their own routine and thinking about which boundaries to set while cooking. It’s important to be consistent in your guidance, especially in the kitchen where there is a need for safety.
Working in the kitchen requires being organised and encourages structural thinking. By always following the same routine, kids learn how you only get the end product (delicious baked goods in our case!) by getting organised and following a method, which has less pleasant aspects (maybe they don’t like walking to the shops, or cleaning up), but it’s all part of a whole.
6. Teamwork, one of the essential life skills
Cooking is not about you dictating a new skill to them, it’s about learning together and spending quality time in each other’s company. Show them how we can all work together on different parts of a dish to make something beautiful and tasty. Make sure to bring your newfound love of cookery into playdates. Too many cooks never spoil the broth if they communicate well!
Just as an FYI: preschool ages (2-4ish) will have some difficulty with this so if you want to focus on cooking with this age group, don’t put too much emphasis on teamwork… not spilling all the milk over the floor will be accomplishment enough 🙂
The mantra Eli and I developed is “Cooking is Listening”. He can’t start cooking until he is alert and able to go through the rules. He knows that this is because the kitchen can be a dangerous place and so everyone in it must be communicative. Listening is an important skill to learn for kids, one that admittedly mine are still working on on a daily basis!
8. Learning by doing
Learning to cook can help teach them the Three Rs! Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rythmetic! Far beyond what banana bread is, cooking will help them develop an understanding of textures and tastes, through the experience of squishing, stirring, blending and tasting the final product; colours, quantities and basic numbers via Little Cookery’s Coloured Cups Method or through normal measures.
When I teach kids’ cooking classes (and when cooking with my own kids) I use the Little Cookery methods and recipes. I notice kids are able to do more and more as their confidence grows. As soon as they realise that this cooking thing is something no longer only for adults, something changes in their attitude toward cooking and they take on any recipe you put in front of them.
While kids don’t need to be able to read to use the book, the nice thing is that they grow with it. So at first they’ll love the picture-based instructions, but later they’ll be learning how to spell “recipe,” “whisk,” and “cinnamon” like a pro.
Cooking is magic – no, wait, it’s just science! Watch their wonder as they realize they are turning liquids into solids by just heating them up! Enforce the learning yourself or use Little Cookery’s feedback pages. You can explain that adding more fat (i.e., butter), will help make the cake less crumbly next time, because fat helps powder stick together better (in v. simple terms!).
10. Motor skills
This is where they’ll really come along if you repeat recipes. What might take them an hour to prepare the first time will soon take 20 minutes, and it’s all because they’ll become more dexterous in handling the equipment and ingredients.
11. Problem solving
Cooking requires problem solving, one of the important life skills, from figuring out on-the-fly substitutes for when you forgot baking powder to getting eggshell in the batter. This will stimulate their ability to think laterally and creatively about problems. Can’t get the shell out with a spoon because the pieces are too slippery? What shall we do? Use our fingers? Start again? Bake it and enjoy the crunch? Learn for next time? If you prompt enquiry, ask them what they think, guide them towards the path you think they should take, they’ll soon be coming up with solutions themselves next time.
12. Dealing with failure
While kids’ recipes should be foolproof, if a kid measures out ½ cup of flour instead of a whole one and adds it to the mixture without you seeing, or if you get out the baking powder when you intended to get out the bicarb, things can occasionally go wrong. The great thing about each project’s feedback pages is that it gives you and your child a chance to talk and think about what could have gone wrong and, more importantly, what you’d do differently next time. There’s space for notes and pictures, too, so you don’t forget.
One of the coolest and most visible things that cooking is helping Eli with is creativity. I almost died when he had the lightbulb moment of realisation that chocolate chips were an optional extra, so they could be added to almost anything!
My kids learn through cooking that every action has a reaction, whether it’s the effect of heat on a batter mix, or being super careful with our last egg so the activity doesn’t get ruined.
Working a chat about personal hygiene into a cooking project is important in terms of life skills. Handwashing is vital in stopping the spread of illness. By talking about what they do with their hands (no fingers in noses or touching hair during cooking), they will develop a self awareness that will become transferable to other areas of their life.
16. Family time = important time
Family life spent in the kitchen is a recipe for creating memories that will last into adulthood. I cover this in more detail on this post about family life in the kitchen.
And so we come to everyone’s favourite activity, but one of the most important life skills to have. I loathe cleaning up and it was one of the things I feared most when I started teaching Eli to cook. I hated the stains, the caked-on flour and the bathtimes to get rid of sticky paws and faces. So I basically developed avoidance tactics and hacks to minimise the mess! From decanting flour from big paper bags into ziplok bags they can dunk their cups into, to making sure to build in tidying as we go into the routine.
What are you waiting for? Get cooking with your kids!
Get in touch if there’s anything about it that scares you! Ahead of the release of the full practical guide, try the methods Eli and I have come up with for free here.
Parts of this text has been taken from the book “Little Cookery: the practical guide to teaching young kids how to cook”.
Are there any skills you’ve noticed your kids have picked up through cooking?