I always thought I’d be the type of parent to constantly have a little “helper” at my side in the kitchen, teaching him (or her) the ins and outs of cooking. And truthfully there have been countless times one of my littles has scooted a chair over to the counter to help whip up a batch of muffins or a loaf of bread. But besides that and being required to clear their dishes off the table after meals, there hasn’t been much else in the way of “helping” (and consequently, learning) in the kitchen.
Not long ago, I mentioned a book I recently read, Free-Range Kids, and how it was very inspiring to me. One of the many things I decided after reading this book was that I needed to foster more independence in my children in the kitchen, among other places. While I don’t usually mind fixing them food (doing the dishes is another matter!), I want them to be able to fix themselves a snack or meal, too. I don’t want to end up with an older child who doesn’t know how to scramble an egg, hold a knife properly, peel a carrot or flip pancakes. I also realized that while I usually provide them with healthy foods at mealtimes, I need to equip them to make those healthy choices for themselves. You know, the whole “teach a man to fish” adage.
Here are some of the steps I’ve taken lately toward this end:
– Move the kids’ dishes to a spot where they can reach them. Right now this means the bottom shelf of the pantry. I’d like to do some rearranging and perhaps move them to a cabinet, but for now, this is working well. They can grab a cup to get water for themselves or more easily help set the table for dinner or just grab plates at lunch time. Bonus: now there are more dishes they can help unload from the dishwasher and put away!
– Move the kids’ snacks and breakfast foods to a spot where they can reach them. This is both to help them be more independent and, ideally, teach them about making healthy choices. We’ll see how that part goes…
– Require Jericho to make his own breakfast (and sometimes lunch). Now it isn’t really a struggle to get him to make his own breakfast. He quite enjoys it. Before rearranging everything, he would occasionally make his breakfast for himself but only after I got out all the appropriate items. Now he gets everything out himself, prepares it (he usually eats granola with milk so it’s fairly simple to assemble), and puts everything away with little to no assistance. I’ve also put him in charge of making his and Anna’s lunches a few times and that has gone fairly well, too. He’s mastering the art of making a PB&J!
– Say “yes” more often. Admittedly, this is the hardest part for me, yet the most impactful. All the other changes are great, but if I always tell them no when they ask to help? We won’t get very far. Let’s face it: it’s harder to cook with two “helpers.” It’s quicker and easier and much less messy if I just do it myself. But I guess no one ever said teaching the man to fish would be without its frustrations. So I’m trying to say yes when they ask to help. Anna, in particular, has been very eager to help in the kitchen lately. Every time I even look like I’m going to start fixing something, she has a chair pulled up to the counter asking, “Can I help?” And now she knows how to grind pepper, how to grate cheese, how to take a bite out of the butter when mama’s not looking (seriously, that child loves plain butter), and we’re even working on peeling those carrots. Jericho’s egg-cracking skills have greatly improved, he’s a pro at rinsing fruits and veggies in the sink, and he can wield a butter knife with the best of them. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve learned after just a month or so.
I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made, and I hope to keep a good thing going! One thing I would like to start doing is requiring more from them (especially Jericho) in terms of doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. I think he’s ready and able to start shouldering more responsibility in this area. Of course, he probably won’t enjoy this aspect as much as making his own breakfast. But…oh well. Life isn’t always fun, is it? Sometimes you gotta stop playing and wash the dishes.