I have three little boys. Sam, who is seven, Eddie, who is six, and Jasper, who will be eight weeks old on Wednesday. They are rambunctious little boys, full of energy and creativity and enthusiasm. I am a stay-at-home-momma now (I haven’t always been, so this is a great thing to me) and as my Twitter bio says, I am a “tattooed creatress of knitted and crocheted objects, reader of books, and baker of pastries.” Those are three big loves, and I have always made it a point to share them with my boys.
Happily for me (and all of us, really), they have become my kitchen helpers. I’ve found that a lot of adults that I’ve spoken with find it unusual that my kids have been assisting me in the kitchen since… well, since they were old enough to sit on my hip, but that’s how we’ve always done it. I love kitchens — I know it’s a cliché, but the kitchen, to me, is the heart of a home. I am crazy about all things cooking-related — I ask for tools and implements as gifts, I drool over Williams-Sonoma, and I am constantly on the lookout for goodies at thrift stores and garage sales. I enjoy cooking meals, but my deep passion is for baking.
As I said, I’ve always included my two older boys in what I’m doing in the kitchen. When Sam was an infant, and I was struggling with postpartum depression, I would put him in his bouncy chair and bake and bake and bake. When he got older, I would hold him on my hip and we’d sniff the vanilla, the spices, touch the flour and sugar, taste the difference between sweet and salty. When he got even older, he’d hold a spoon and help stir.
Eddie came along very soon after, and Sam helped me even more — arranging slices of sweet potatoes to be made into baby food, sorting out vegetables and fruits, and mixing up cereal with me. In 2005, I found myself a single mother receiving food stamps. It was a big change from what we were used to, but we made it work. Trips to the grocery store took a long time, because we spent ages in the produce section, touching and smelling the fruits and vegetables, talking about what we’d make, and selecting just the right specimens for our cooking. I was able to buy the things I needed for healthy meals, and I will always be grateful for the assistance I received when I needed it most.
As they’ve gotten older their kitchen duties have naturally expanded. They’ve helped knead bread dough, made streusel, cut shortening into flour to make pie crust. They crack eggs, measure out ingredients, and under VERY careful supervision, Sam slices soft vegetables and fruits.
I really feel like these skills are important for them to learn. Cooking is a total sensory and educational experience. Sam struggles with reading, so he practices by reading out recipes. They’ve learned fractions and enhanced math skills with the measuring of ingredients. They’ve learned exotic cooking terms, and the satisfaction of creating something with their own hands and through their own actions. Plus, the gratification of a tangible (and delicious!) result is eminently satisfying.