Abundant Optimism

Helping people regain and keep an optimistic outlook in challenging circumstances and improve their creativity, mind, and skills.

Learn Patience While Sharing Joy

By Tamara Martfeld

I recently heard a true story about a child watching adults baking. The child wanted to help, and the adults let him. The child was ecstatic and enjoyed the experience.

Too many times, adults do not want the children around when the adult is working in a kitchen. They forget that children will only learn by watching and doing. It shocks me that many of my co-workers do not know the basics of cooking. They know how to stick something in the microwave, but a simple dinner from scratch is not possible for them. Both men and women need to know this basic skill. Adults who do not teach these skills to the children in their lives are doing the children a mis-service. As I have said before, the kitchen is the best place to find savings when the budget needs help. However, to take advantage of this, one needs to know how to cook.

Baking cookies from scratch is a fun place to start the teaching. Measuring the ingredients is a good way to learn fractions. One can see that a quarter cup is smaller than a cup. Once a child is older, doubling a recipe is a good way to teach adding fractions. Of course, the child usually will not realize that math is being taught!

Baking cookies is also science. Depending on the cookie chosen, one can teach the child about chemical reactions (such as a recipe that calls for the baking soda to be mixed with hot water before being added to the dough), how a recipe can taste a lot different by changing only a few ingredients (substitute butterscotch chips for chocolate chips), and how adding heat can change a product (baking the cookie, or the changes that occur when a pan is on the stove).

Following a recipe requires reading and the ability to follow directions. If the child is not yet able to read, point to the words as you both look at the recipe. Those who cannot yet read may pick up some of the repeated words. In any case, they will understand that you are following directions. They will eventually be able to do this without help.

Once some basic skills are learned, encourage some creativity. If you can spare the money, let the child try things you know will fail, such as not adding as much flour or liquid. If you cannot spare the money, take a basic dough and let the child decide what to add to it to get different cookies (the Toll House recipe is a good one for this, and there are others out there with more versatility). Changes can be in the type of extract or spices used, the type of chips or broken candy, the addition of nuts or coconut, etc. Allow the fun.

Of course, while teaching the baking skills, don’t forget to teach your method of cleaning skills, whether it is to clean up as you go, or wait until everything is done. Make it fun and make sure the child knows it is part of the process. Even if drying only some of the dishes or putting away a few things is all that the child is able to do (such as with younger children), include them in this very important part of the process.

Patience is the skill both the adult and child will learn. For the child, they have to wait for the cookies to be completed and, in most cases, cooled before they can eat their final product. For the adult, the slowness of the child, the mess, and the overall experience may require great patience! However, there is also the reward for the adult in knowing that they are teaching the child a valuable skill.

Baking cookies a valuable skill? Of course, and in many ways. It is cooking, and again, math and science are just some of the skills learned. After they have had fun with baking, they will want to help with meals. They can tear up lettuce for a salad or combine pre-prepped items to create a salad. Beans can be broken apart, and pea pods can be emptied. Stirring something cold for younger children, and then on the stove for older children can be done. They have learned to follow directions using measuring spoons – have them make a salad dressing (5 parts oil and 3 parts flavored vinegar is a good and easy one).

As they get older, add to their skill level. If you use a convenience food such as a boxed rice mix, have them make it with supervision. Eventually, the child will be able to plan and cook dinner. My sister, brother, and I were at this level around nine years old. My parents would put a piece of meat out to thaw and tell us to plan and cook a meal around that meat. We were encouraged to follow recipes and experiment. We did have a few barely edible meals, but by the time we left home, we were skilled cooks. Thanksgiving dinner has never been a big deal for us, but for many of our co-workers, it is a reason to panic.

A bonus to teaching the kids to cook young, according to my parents, is communication. We cooked as a family and talked while we cooked. This was a part of working together in a small kitchen, and we were always included at whatever skill level we had. According to my parents, the communication continued through our teen years. We would talk in the kitchen as teens, but nowhere else. Sneaky!

The skills you develop are patience and teaching. The skills you teach are priceless – especially the joy of cooking!

Have fun, and enjoy whatever experiments come out of the kitchen!