The kitchen is, in most family homes, where children end up spending quite a bit of time. Kids like being at the heart of home, where there’s lots of bustle and activity but few parents think of the kitchen as an environment for play and learning.
However there are lots of opportunities for interacting with your kids in the kitchen, which don’t have to involve too much mess. Below are some simple ideas for kitchen-led activities, which include simple cooking activities and craft ideas ideal for doing on a rainy day around the kitchen table.
Before you begin ~
It goes without saying that kitchens can be quite dangerous places so, if you haven’t already, make sure your child can’t get their hands on anything dangerous should you turn your back for a moment, e.g household bleach and other cleaning solutions, sharp knives or scissors, or recently boiled water in the kettle which they might pull onto themselves.
Simple cooking ~
It’s never too young to learn about good food and even preschool children can try their hand at simple recipes. Not only will cooking help children develop an appreciation for healthy, quality food, but they’ll be learning along the way – cooking can support language and literacy, numeracy and science understanding, as well as helping kids to develop their physical and social skills. Find out more on our learning through cookery page.
As for recipes suitable for children to try, our food sectionhas a fab selection of ideas to get budding chefs excited, from scrummy savouries, such as cheesy biscuits, pizza and chicken wraps, to cakes and puddings such as fruit kebabs, banana fairy cakes and gingerbread men. You’ll also find helpful tips and advice to make your cooking sessions stress-free and fun.
Learning about food ~
A knowledge of where food comes from – both in a geographic sense and environmental sense – is something many of today’s children are lacking. It’s easy to overlook the importance of talking about food and where it comes from with our kids but it’s quite important to know that some foods come from the ground, some from the trees and others from animals.
So, to give your children an appreciation of what comes from where, gather together some varied food stuffs – fruits, tins, pasta, noodles, etc. First ask them if they know what each food is – obviously they’ll know the common ones like apples and bananas but what about exotic fruits like kiwis or mangoes? Then explain where in the world you might find such fruits and how they grow (eg. pasta comes from Italy, there are lots of varieties and it’s made from wheat, noodles originate in China, etc, etc).
Perhaps they can sit at the kitchen table with their paper and crayons and then draw a time-line of each stage in a fruit/other foodstuff’s journey to our plates. They might also like flicking through a selection of cookery books – with their colourful pictures and interesting foods (especially the cake and pudding sections!) cookery books can be very visually stimulating for young children.
Playing with pots and pans ~
The age-old favourite that never fails! Rainy days are made for this activity, especially if you need to get on with some chores in the kitchen. Arrange all your pots and pans on the floor – the more and varied the merrier – and then give your child some wooden spoons to bash about with making as much noise as possible!
Encourage them to tap out rhythms to the music on the radio or to a song you can all sing together.
Pasta jewellery ~
Making a necklace or bracelet out of pasta couldn’t be easier – all you need is a handful of pasta (different sizes works well, so try some longer penne alongside some shorter macaroni, for example) some thick thread or string (and PVA glue and glitter if your child fancies making their creation extra sparkly, or some paint for extra colour). Threading their pasta onto the string will help to develop hand-eye co-ordination.
A helpful tip is to stick one end of the thread down to a piece of paper or card on the kitchen table using sticky tape, leaving enough string for your child to easily manipulate, but ensuring that the pasta at one end of the necklace or bracelet does not keep slipping off the end. Once they’ve threaded enough pasta to make their piece of jewellery, they can then add glitter or paint to make their creation more colourful. When dry, un-stick from the paper mounted to the table and secure both ends of the string to the desired length.
Easy shakers ~
Pasta and rice make great components for simple shakers. All you need are some empty lidded containers and some pasta or rice. Give your child a suitable spoon to measure out enough pasta or rice to adequately fill the container. Pop the lid on and then decorate the container using stickers/cut-outs etc or leave as is.
Simple cake decorating ~
You don’t have to embark on an epic baking session for your child to enjoy some food-based kitchen activities. A fairly no-fuss, less messy option is to let your children indulge in some cake decorating. You’ll need a batch of fairy cakes (make your own or buy non-iced shop-bought mini sponges/cupcakes), some bowls of icing, food colouring and decorations (multi-coloured and chocolate sprinkles, jelly tots, silver balls, sugar strands, etc).
Let your child ice their cake and then choose how to decorate it – they’ll enjoy selecting different decoration combinations to add to their icing. Separate off some of the icing into separate bowls and show them what happens when they add some food colouring to their icing – they’ll have great fun stirring in the colour to make vivid hues of blue, pink, and green! It goes without saying that they’ll also enjoy eating their creations so why not finish off their cake decorating session with tea, cakes and a chat around the kitchen table?
The grand kitchen tour ~
Kitchens are full of – to a child’s eyes – weird and wonderful objects and appliances. What we take for granted in our environment children are innately curious about so why not harness their interest and tell them what all those strange kitchen items actually do. Obviously you won’t want to introduce them to anything dangerous, like the electric knife, but there are lots of other things they might like to see in action, such as the cheese grater, the lemon juicer, potato mouli/masher, egg timer, etc.
If you have time and you don’t mind them experimenting, let them have a go at a simple food preparation task, such as grating some cheese or juicing a lemon so they can see these household items in action. Yes, to our jaded busy mums’ eyes these tasks are hardly exciting but introducing your child to useful household items and how to use them is a handy life skill.
Playing with texture ~
Kitchens are full of textured materials which your child could use to make an interesting, tactile collage. Cut up some bits of foil, J cloths, an old sponge, egg boxes, textured kitchen roll, greaseproof paper, etc. Put any interesting materials you can find on the kitchen table, with some card or paper, child-friendly scissors and some glue and see what creative pictures they come up with.
Stroll down the Spice Route ~
Do you have an interesting spice rack or cupboard, full of wonderfully fragrant, unusual-looking spices? Nestled in their little jars, spices and herbs can provide an interesting talking point for you to explore with your children.
Open the jars and let them have a smell (but don’t let them get too close to the curry powder or anything very hot and spicy – you don’t want them to get anything very hot on their fingers and then rub their eyes.) Which herbs and spices to they like? Talk about what different spices are made from, what dishes they’re used in and where they come from in the world. You could even encourage your child to start their own herb garden if they’re interested – basil, mint and parsley can easily be potted and left do grow on the kitchen windowsill out out in the garden.
Dough play ~
You don’t have to invest in new Play-Doh every time your child’s dries out – it’s quick and easy to make up a batch of dough yourself, and the kids can help with the preparation. All you need is: 1 cup of plain flour, half a cup of salt, 1 tablespoon of oil, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar and one cup of water. You can also add food colouring to the mixture if you want to make coloured dough.
First mix all the dry ingredients together, then add the water and mix till smooth. If you’re adding food colouring do this before you add your oil. Then pop the mixture into a saucepan and cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly. Allow the dough to cool off and then place on a wipe-clean surface so you can wipe up any crumbs easily.
As well as simply moulding the dough into shapes, your child could also use cookie cutters or blunt knives to make interesting shapes and objects.