Personal, social and emotional development
Cooking helps children’s personal, social and emotional development by providing opportunities for exploration, developing skills, confidence and autonomy, and sometimes involvement for long periods of time with or without adult support. Cooking can be difficult, so children feel a sense of pride and satisfaction when they eat or take home what they have made.
Communication, language, and literacy
Cooking also supports children’s developing communication, language, and literacy as they talk about what they are doing and collaborate with others. Children will often have to follow precise instructions from adults, and use talk to organise, order and clarify what they are doing.
Problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy
Children develop their problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy by finding out about quantity, starting with ideas of “more”, “a lot”, and over time developing more sophisticated ideas of exact measurement of quantity, weight, size and time. Cooking presents a “real context” for the use of numbers – counting out the spoons of sugar, for example, correctly reading a number in a recipe, or placing muffin mixture into cases to experience division and one-to-one correspondence.
Knowledge and understanding of the world
Cooking is a good context for children to expand their knowledge and understanding of the world, finding out about different ingredients, what happens when things are mixed together and how heat and cold changes substances. Through preparing and eating food, children can find out about other cultures and traditions. Whilst cooking, children can observe materials closely and explore them with all their senses and talk about what they see and how things change. They can gain first-hand experience of cause-effect relationships, and observe which changes are one-way and which are reversible. You can melt ice, but can’t get the flour and butter back from a cake you have baked.
They can use tools for a purpose, supporting their physical development, and learn about keeping safe whilst experiencing risks such as cutting and grating. They can find out how substances can be changed by tools, for example by whisking.
Children’s creative development is supported as they develop their own ideas and tastes in cooking. They can talk about and evaluate what they have done.
A sensory, well-rounded experience
Cooking is sensory experience that can often engage all five senses, making it a memorable experience and truly engaging the children in the Early Years. Cooking also gives children knowledge about food, where it comes from and what is healthy and unhealthy. It also gives them valuable self-help skills.
Cooking with your children at home
There are many ways in which you can really enhance your child's learning experience through cooking with them.
- To aid your child develop their vocabulary, engage them in conversation while you are cooking together. Talk about where food comes from, pose questions to encourage children to talk about what they are doing and make observationsabout the cooking process, the smells, colours, textures and actions, modelling the use of the appropriate vocabulary.
- To help your child develop their comprehension skills, prepare a recipe chart with photos describing each step of the cooking process. Let your child investigate the ingredients in their raw form and encourage them to smell, taste, and feelthem. Explore the equipment and tools that you will use and talk about their purpose. Read the recipe along with them, discussing each step as you go. Discuss safety and sanitary measures with the children during before and during the cooking experience. Include children in the clean-up process.
- Of course, the way you involve children in the cooking process needs to be appropriate to their age and developmental stage. Here are some ways in which you can engage your child at different ages. At the age of two, children can be tasked with scrubbing vegetables and fruit, carrying unbreakable items to the tableand washing and tearing vegetable greens. Three-year-old children are able to pour liquids into batter, mix batter or other dry and wet ingredients together, shake a drink in a closed container, spread butter on bread, knead dough, wash vegetables and fruit, serve food and help clean up by putting things in the trash after cooking. Four and five-year-olds are learning to control fine motor muscles in their fingers. Juicing oranges, lemons, and limes, peeling, scrubbing and cutting some fruits and vegetables with a child-safe utensil are great ways to support their development. Children can measure dry ingredients and mix them; they can help set the table and clean up after cooking.