Facilitating language with children while cooking in the kitchen

Do you want to help improve and expand your child’s language skills? Do you bake or cook with your children? Try getting them to help out in the kitchen. This article describes the do’s and don’ts of facilitating language while cooking or baking. Follow these simple tips to help expand your child’s vocabulary, improve sequencing, follow directions and make choices.


Do offer choices

When cooking or baking together, give your child clear choices, but no more than three at time. If you give too many choices, it will be overwhelming for both you and your child. Choice-making with your child also provides an opportunity to facilitate language and introduce new vocabulary.

Do begin with simple recipes with healthy ingredients

If you start by making a souffle from scratch with your three year old, both you and your child can wind up quickly frustrated with an extremely messy kitchen. Keep your recipes simple, so your child will be able to follow along and help with ease. If you do want to challenge yourself with a more complex recipe with many steps, your best bet would be to prepare in advance. For example, before you begin cooking, combine the dry ingredients together or puree the vegetables if using them in a recipe.

Be sure to incorporate healthy ingredients into any recipe that you are making with your child. For example, substitute oil with applesauce, add pureed fruit or vegetables, and add a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ when baking breads, cookies, granola, etc. The more familiar your children are with healthy ingredients, the more inclined they will be to eat and enjoy them.

Do highlight the recipe ingredients and where they originate from

Many children believe that foods grow at the supermarket. Try reading books at mealtime, especially children’s books that discuss where foods come from. For example, the book, How Did that Get In My Lunchbox?, is a great book to start with. When baking a sweet potato granola with your kids, talk about where sweet potatoes come from, what they taste like, what they feel like, and if your kids like the taste and why. This will help encourage and facilitate language during your cooking and/or baking activity.

Also use this time to talk about food allergies. Chances are your children know someone in their class who has a food allergy. The more we discuss food allergies with our children, the safer everyone will be. Many parents of children with food allergies get anxious thinking about their kids eating an allergic food without knowing it. But when kids with allergies understand the need to be cautious of eating certain foods, they will begin to ask, “Does this have nuts or eggs or milk in it?” This can be very helpful if your child has dangerous food allergies.

Do emphasize different actions that your child is engaging in

Use modeling when your child is participating in the recipe. For example, you can say, “You are doing a great job stirring” or “You are whisking the flour and baking soda.” Ask your child questions, such as, “What should we do next?” This helps with sequencing and problem solving.

Do explore all of the senses

Baking and cooking can be a multi-sensory experience. When engaging in the activity, ask your child how a specific ingredient feels, smells and tastes. Spices are wonderful ingredients to smell and describe. This can help expand your children’s vocabulary and also improve their ability to describe specific items. You can even play games by having your children close their eyes, smell different ingredients and let them guess what it is.


Do not stress about the mess

Baking and cooking with your child can be very stressful if you don’t like a messy kitchen. Incorporate a “clean up” time into cooking. Have your child hand you all of the dirty utensils, measuring cups and pans. You can turn the activity into a language activity by saying, “Give me the measuring cup” or “Give me the little spoon.” You can work on language without them having any idea.

Do not give too many multi-step directions

Giving too many directions at once can be overwhelming for a child. If you want to make the steps easier, have the recipe accessible so your child can read along with you. If your child can’t read yet, incorporate pictures into the recipe. Pictures are easy to find online or can be taken with your phone. After you finish two or three steps, review the recipe with your child. This can help recall information and improve sequencing. If your child is struggling with this, give him or her choices or use visuals (recipe or pictures).

Do not ask a lot of open-ended questions

When you ask too many open-ended questions, many kids tend to shut down. It is ideal when you mix up your questions with fill-in-the-blank questions, such as, “Put the milk in the ____” or “Where do you put the milk, in the bowl or in the measuring cup?”

Do not use complex language

Remember to use simple language when giving directions to your little ones. As adults, we use many words that our children do not understand. When baking or cooking together, ask your child questions, such as, “What does whisk mean?” or “What does mix mean?”

Do not cook or bake at a rushed time of the day

Starting a cooking or baking activity at 5 pm during the weekday is a recipe for disaster. For most families, this is when things are very hectic because parents need to cook dinner and get it on the table for hungry children. Instead, bake or cook at a time that you can be relaxed and don’t have to be anywhere. Also leave plenty of time for clean up.

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Facilitating language during cooking or baking is a great activity for families. The ideal time to starting cooking or baking with your child is as young as possible. Follow these simple tips to help expand your child’s vocabulary, improve sequencing, follow directions and make choices.

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Becca EisenbergSpeech Language Pathologist, Author

Becca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a certified speech language pathologist who graduated with her Masters from Teachers College, Columbia University where she is now an instructor. She has been practicing speech and language pathology since 2001 ...

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