Kids in the Kitchen – Promoting Independence

October 8, 2019

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One of our main goals as parents is to raise independent children who will grow up to be self sufficient adults.  It is so easy to forget this.  We become bogged down with this idea that we need to give our children a “magical” and “perfect” childhood.  That is definitely not reality – so are we setting them up for failure? 

I can’t give up on the magic of childhood – my parents (especially my mother) gave my siblings and I an amazing childhood – full of magic and free of worry.  I am grateful for that.  But, they also taught me how to be independent and take care of myself.  For that, I am even more grateful.

Promote Independence in the Kitchen

One area where kids can experience independence at an early age is in the kitchen.  I love seeing how proud my kids are when they make their own (mangled) peanut butter sandwich.  I know that sandwich tastes better because they made it themselves.  When we work hard and earn things for ourselves we appreciate the reward so much more.

Often it is easier to do things for our children than to let them take the time to do it themselves.  As parents we are very impatient.  I get it – on a busy school morning there is no way my kids are making their own breakfast.  But, what’s the harm on a relaxed Saturday morning?

What kitchen skills should an early elementary school child have?

  • Measure wet and dry ingredients
  • Cut with a safety knife
  • Spread butter, jelly or peanut butter
  • Mix batter or eggs
  • Wash and cut fruits and vegetables
  • Make a sandwich
  • Use Cookie cutters
  • Frost a cupcake or cookie

I am sure there are many other things out there that kids this age can do – but this is a pretty good starter list.  These are all basic skills.  How do we use these basic skills to promote independence in the kitchen?  What can my kids do “all by themselves”?

I started out by coming up with 4 goals for the kids.  Four things that I know they can do – that will give them a tangible result.

4 Kitchen Tasks to promote Independence

  • Make a sandwich for lunch
  • Make an English muffin for breakfast
  • Cut veggies for afternoon snack
  • Cut fruit for dessert

If they can do these four things they will be able to better take care of themselves – they will have independence.  Be able to make their own breakfast, lunch and snack.  Yes, it will be messy.  No, it will not be pretty.  And it will take about ten times longer than if I made it.  But, they will gain pride and confidence.  They will learn that they are capable and can do things for themselves.

As parents we make these meals every day and don’t even stop to think about all the steps involved.  How many skills we are actually using?  Let’s take making an English muffin for breakfast as our example.

Step by Step Guide to Making an English Muffin

First, you have to open the package and remove a muffin.  And close the package again.  Next, you have to cut the English muffin in half. This skill takes some practice.

Once the muffin is cut in half you need to place it in the toaster and start the toaster.  Once the toaster pops you need to safely remove the muffin. 

making toast

Next, you have to scoop the butter or peanut butter from the container – not easy when you are 5. 

Finally, you have to spread the topping on the muffin. 

I love how his little tongue sticks out when he is concentrating so hard!

Making an english muffin for breakfast requires a lot of fine motor skills, as well as thinking.  There are 8 independent steps your kid chef needs to complete. To a child who has not made an English muffin before, these basic steps are not intuitive.  This is a process that we need to teach them.

She is so proud of her breakfast – that she made all by herself!

The first breakfast your child makes is going to be a mangled mess.  But they will be so proud.  And it will be delicious.  If they offer you a bite – you better say it is the best muffin ever!

Future Culinary Adventures

I am happy to say that my kids have accomplished the goals I set – make a sandwich, make breakfast, cut fruit and veggies. As they improve their culinary skills I continue to look for new ways for them to exert their independence – without the oven or stove. Teaching them to cut using these “safe” plastic knives that actually cut has opened up so many possibilities for them.

I steal these knives from the kids when I need to cut something on a baking pan – they don’t scratch the metal!

The pride and confidence a child gains by being independent is immeasurable and it so important.  It may seem like such a little thing – but by allowing our kids to be independent in the kitchen we are taking a step on the path to creating self sufficient adults.  And that is our ultimate goal as parents.

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