Therapy in the kitchen
Cooking has so many benefits for kids. Although they can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help, getting children involved in the kitchen allows them to develop and practice many skills that they need to use in their every day activities. This applies to kids of all ages; it is an important step for teaching independence and an opportunity to spend some quality time doing an activity with your child.
So, what are the benefits?
Hand Strengthening: When cooking, we are using all the little muscles in our hands. Actions like squeezing a piping bag, forming batter into balls or kneading dough with our hands, are all ways we are strengthening our finger muscles. It is important to develop these muscles to help us write a sentence and tie our shoelaces. For kids who find these things very difficult, experiment with different utensils and use tools like cookie cutters when you can.
Bilateral Coordination: This is being able to use both sides of our body at the same time. For example, one hand holding paper while the other hand snips with scissors. Often, there are steps in a recipe that will require us to practice this skill. Things such as using a rolling pin with two hands, icing a cupcake, or sifting flour. Have a go at demonstrating these actions beside your child so they are able to follow your example.
Following Instructions and Problem Solving: Following a recipe involves organisation, sequencing, and interpreting instructions. These are skills that we use everyday and can be especially tricky for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD. Cooking is such a fun way to practice these skills, and you have the added bonus of a tasty end product!
Sensory Exploration: For sensory seekers, cooking offers so many experiences to explore sensory input. Feeling the different textures of foods, receiving proprioceptive input (heavy work for our muscles) when kneading and mixing, and lots of smells to explore. Alternatively for kids who are on the sensitive side, there are ways to explore different senses in a gradual, safe way. If your child does not like the feel of different foods, encourage them to explore it while wearing plastic gloves or in the case of dough, place cling wrap over it so they are still able to play with it but do not get it on their hands. When the child is ready, they can reduce these barriers to promote desensitisation.
For older children, encourage involvement in the cooking process in little steps such as first bringing the groceries in, then the following week preparing some veggies etc.
Start with simple dishes, go slowly, and tick or cross off the steps as you go along. Before starting, encourage them to firstly collect all the ingredients and have a clear bench space to avoid feeling overwhelmed. And for the visual learners try to use recipes with pictures for each step or follow cooking videos such as “Tasty” that previews the steps in a video form.
If you’re up for the task, choose a time that wouldn’t be stressful (such as preparing a weeknight dinner) so you have time to go slowly and enjoy the activity with your child. But most importantly, have fun!