Last week I wrote about how we have enabled Gess to fix her own breakfast cereal each morning in my blog Fostering Independence: Breakfast Cereal. Well, that is only one of the ways we have helped Gess to be more independent in the kitchen. We actually started activities like this at a very early age.
When Gess was a preschooler I found her to be very destructive. After raising two boys, I was surprised that this quiet little girl seemed to make more of a mess than they ever did. It was not just that she was "messy" but she was getting into things she was not supposed to. After several times of finding broken eggs on the floor, I decided I had to try to figure out how to stop it. Instead of just applying discipline I first wanted to figure out "why" she was so determined to get into the fridge. It was then I realized that she was simply trying to be like mommy. Instead of punishing that behavior and locking her out of the fridge, I decided to try a different approach. Why not find ways to let her use it?
Gess was still drinking out of a sippy cup at the time so I started keeping one of them filled with juice in the fridge. I showed her where it was and when she asked for a drink I would encourage her to get it herself. So sometimes when she was thirsty she would go get her own drink. Having just one thing you were allowed to touch in the fridge is not that fun though, so I looked for other things I could let her have. We started getting snacks like individually wrapped cheese chunks, cups of fruit, and yogurts for her to have. She would still need to bring them to us to open, but she seemed so happy to just be able to get them by herself. The incredible part was I really did stop finding broken eggs on the floor of the kitchen! We still keep juice boxes in the fridge so she can still get her own drinks and snacks. We also have a snack basket in the pantry of non-refrigerated healthy snacks for her to grab too.
Now that she had a couple of things she could reach on her own, We began to make other things easier for her to access as well. All my cabinets are very high, so we started keeping her small plates, cups and silverware within reach on a shelf in the pantry. When she got old enough to reach the silverware drawer we started teaching her to set the table. You can get place mats with all the dishes in place for them to use, but we just made one out of paper and had her follow that example.
She just loved feeling like she had the freedom to get things herself and that she was helping to share in the responsibility at meal time, just like mommy and daddy. Of course every kid loves to help cook and I let her help do that whenever possible. We actually try to make baked goods as gifts.
Making playdough is also a fun way to use the kitchen. You can finds tons of recipes at PlaydoughRecipe.com. Then after you make the playdough (with adult supervision of course) you can give them lots of cooking utensils to us as they play with the dough.
It's also a good way to practice cutting food without making a mess. I am excited because Gess has just finally started cutting her own food rather well.
Gess just seems to love do anything I do. She even loves putting the garbage bag liner in the trash can when I take out the trash. Every time she hears the sound of me whipping the garbage bag to open it up, she comes running. So that is her job now, I take the garbage out and she puts the new liner back in. It's funny what things seem so fun for a child to do!
Then of course, I think every kid loves to help wash the dishes. Getting a bunch of plastics dishes in soapy water is a fun way for them to "clean up." Here is Gess doing that when she was much younger.
You have to be careful though because sometimes they want to just jump right in!