Children learn by doing, so it is entirely normal that they will want to help you in the kitchen. I have tried to foster an independent spirit in my children from a very early age, giving them little chores that they can do on a daily and weekly basis. For example, my two six year-olds and four year-old on a daily basis put away their shoes when they come in from outside, help me put laundry in the washer and dryer, and put away folded clothes one stack at a time (i.e. all shorts, all pants, etc.). Once a week they either dust the living room (with a sock pulled over their hand that I spray with a little pledge), gather the trash and change trash bags through the house, or mop the kitchen floor and laundry room (after I give it a thorough sweeping). The other day Razzle Dazzle looked at me and said in a slightly accusing tone, “Mommy, you are training us to work!” I smothered my laughter and said, “Yes, I am. That is my job.” I also take the children with me whenever our church has a workday, and they have painted walls and cabinets. I want to teach my children that work is a part of our life as a family, and that it takes effort for sure, but is also rewarding.
Anyway, back to the kitchen. Obviously there are many things that you cannot allow children to do in the kitchen because of sharp and hot things that can hurt them. Here are some simple ideas for ways that they can be involved, which may mean more work for you at first, but a lot of fun (and learning) for them.
Rinsing plates/loading dishwasher - My kids love rinsing plates after a meal because they get to use the sprayer! Yes, this will result in water on the floor, so be prepared. Also, my children now routinely put their own plate/bowl/silverware in the dishwasher after I quickly rinse them. My two oldest also unload the dishwasher. They find it thrilling to get to put away and handle breakable things like glasses, and are usually very careful. They enjoy being “big enough” to have this responsibility.
Salads – I often have the children assemble their own salad (except for the dressing, I have to do that part). This is accomplished by having everything laid out and chopped up in different piles or containers. They then just take handfuls (with clean hands of course) of lettuce, spinach, any chopped vegetables, nuts, dried fruit, cheese, croutons, etc. and make their own salad.
Banana Nut Bread – My children were helping me break eggs when they were three and four years old. You can teach a child to do it and they really think it’s fun. We make banana nut bread together often. I let them stir, break the eggs, and empty measuring cups and spoons that I fill into the bowl.
Gingerbread Cookies - Every year at Christmas we make gingerbread cookies together. After they help me make the cookie dough (doing the same things listed above), they also get to cut out the cookies with cookie cutters and then later decorate them with icing and sprinkles, etc. We make a large amount and then take them to neighbors and friends for Christmas presents. This past year we joined together with three other families and made not only gingerbread cookies but all sorts of other treats and made combination plates. It was an awesome fun day!
I encourage you to include and have some fun with your Littles in the kitchen!