There are many things that I want to teach my children before they leave the house. While the most important of these have to do with character, perspective, and attitude, there are quite a few academic skills and also a good number of life skills that I want to be sure they master. I want my boys to grow into self-sufficient adults. I want them to be able to cook, clean, do laundry, responsibly manage their finances, competently do basic mending, as well as complete basic trouble-shooting and repairs, along with a list of other similar life skills. In order to teach them these are things every person must know and do, my husband and I have involved our boys in the completion of these tasks from a very early age.
From the time they were born, I wore my boys, and while riding around the house in their carriers, they watched everything I did. By the time they were toddlers, they knew where things were kept, and had some notion of what is involved with various tasks. And as soon as they were able to participate, I tried to involve them at some small level.
In the kitchen, this happened early. Once my boys could stand and expressed an interest in helping – and what toddler doesn’t want to work side-by-side doing real work with mama or dad? – I found them tasks to do.
My husband built a platform for our boys so they could be up at counter height from a young age. When I cook, I frequently drag the platform around the kitchen so my toddler can get an on-the-level view of what I’m doing. I find he’s much more patient while I’m trying to finish something if he can actually see what I’m doing. A toddler’s view while standing on the ground is very limited; kneel down and see for yourself.
I also find ways that he can get his hands involved with the cooking itself. If I’m cleaning vegetables, I’ll give him some vegetables to wash in a bowl of water in the sink (Be warned: if you try this on the floor, you will end up with wet feet. It’s still worth doing it; just make sure you have a towel or two handy). If I’m snapping the ends off of green beans, I’ll give him some beans, show him how it’s done, and let him work at it.
My 6-year-old likes to help measure ingredients, so he does most of the measuring for us when we cook. He’s even learning to approximate various measurements, as he’s primarily learning from me and I don’t tend to measure when doing every day cooking. Toddlers can scoop and dump ingredients too, which works well when measurements don’t need to be precise or when you can use your hand to guide his little one in the needed motions.
My boys love turning our small appliances off and on, especially the food processor. They’re also good at spreading food out on a tray for roasting, stirring with a wooden spoon, and letting me know when the timer beeps. And both boys are good at telling me when they think they can do a task themselves. The first couple of times I may help them, but then it’s theirs to do.
My 6-year-old gathers ingredients, pulls out needed cooking supplies, turns on the oven to pre-heat it, sprinkles on seasonings (though, admittedly, it took a while before it was even – but with practice he’s now doing well), along with all sorts of other kitchen tasks.
Yes, involving my boys in these ways makes cooking take longer. Yes, having my boys help often results in a much greater mess than cooking on my own. Yes, having my boys help means that my food doesn’t always turn out as picture-perfect beautifully as it would if I laid it out myself. But, all of these things are so worth it. Each of these minor inconveniences means that they are learning important skills. And one of these days, I’ll have two boys who can cook for me, or at least know how to cook for themselves.