The holidays are a special time for family and friends. Your little one will enjoy the extra time with those they love most, and they’ll be fascinated watching wonder of the holidays unfold. This season is a perfect opportunity to include your child in food preparation. It’s likely they’ll appreciate the meals you serve, even more when they have been a part of the process.
Here are the steps for Montessori approaches to two cooking activities your family can enjoy over the course of the holiday season.
Toddler-friendly Mashed Potatoes
First, fill a low basin or a baking dish with an inch of water. Place one potato at a time in the water, and show your young child how to scrub it all over with a small mushroom brush that fits in the palm of their hand. Putting more than one potato in the basin is likely to distract them from the process in front of them, so try to prevent them from adding all the potatoes at once.
Offer your child a turn. As they finish scrubbing each potato, they can move it to a clean bowl and add a new potato to the basin. As with all practical life activities, the purpose is the process and not the product, so do not worry if they are not scrubbing the potatoes thoroughly. You can give the potatoes another scrub before moving on to the next step.
When the potatoes are all washed, you can show your little one how to dry them, one at a time. If they lose interest, do not try to make them finish the work. They can try again another day!
Use a peeling tool. When the potatoes are clean, you can offer your little one a peeler and show them how to peel each potato by holding it with one hand and moving the peeler along the potato with the other. If they are struggling, you can put your hands over theirs to show them how to do it. You will want to watch them while they do this work as the blade on a peeler can be sharp. If they are not paying attention or seem to be endangering their fingers, then show them how to use it properly again. If they persist in using it incorrectly, then distract them with another activity while you take over.
Once each peel comes off the potato, show your child how to use your pincer grip to pick up the peel and put it in a discard bowl. This work with the fingers is an indirect preparation for writing. Every time they exercise their pincer grip they strengthen their fingers!
When they are finished peeling potatoes (this moment will probably arrive before all the potatoes are peeled!), then you will continue with the next portion of the activity on your own. Boil the potatoes and drain them. When they have cooled sufficiently, add the seasoning and ingredients of your choice, and then place the bowl in front of your child with a potato masher. As with all materials, a child-size masher is ideal, but if you cannot find one, then show them how you use both hands to push the masher into the potatoes. If they are at a low table, they may want to stand up to do this work.
Your little one will feel a sense of pride when you serve the potatoes at the meal and thank them for their contribution.
To further this sense of ownership, you can set up the mashed potatoes, along with the other foods they will be eating, at a low buffet table so that they can serve themselves before sitting down to eat. Every moment that they can participate in and do for themselves will enhance their confidence and joy.
++ Free download: 25 Holiday Activities for Toddlers ++
A Montessori approach to making cookies
Pre-measure the ingredients and put them in individual small bowls at a low table. Measuring is an added challenge for a young child and can distract from the parts of the process that they can do successfully. They can help dump the ingredients one at a time into a bowl and then use a child-sized wooden spoon to stir it up. They may need your help at the end to make sure everything is mixed thoroughly.
Divide the dough into 2 or 3 parts to make it more manageable for your little one. Put the first portion on a cutting board with flour, and then show them how to use their rolling pin to roll out the dough. Once it is thin enough, put the rolling pin aside. Show your little one how to push down a cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Child-friendly cookie cutters are great to avoid sharp edges! Lift up the unused dough and show them how to slide a spatula under each cookie to transfer them to a baking sheet. Continue until the dough is used up (or your child loses interest).
Place a bowl of sprinkles next to the baking sheet, and show your child how to use the pincer grip to grasp sprinkles between your thumb and pointer finger, and place the sprinkles on the cookie. Let them have a turn. Chances are that your little one will heavily decorate some cookies more than others. Try to refrain from making a comment on how they choose to allocate the sprinkles. Their confidence and their enjoyment of the process matters more than the aesthetics of the finished product.
When the cookies are baked and cooled, your child can use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a serving platter, and you can admire how beautiful they are and how good they smell! A child-sized spatula will be the easiest for your little one to maneuver. It is tremendous for your little one’s confidence to know they have meaningfully contributed to the holiday meal.
Children of all ages yearn to be a part of their world. They want to participate in adult activities, and they want to believe that their work matters. The holidays offer an abundance of opportunities for your little one to contribute to the special meals that take place at this time. The positive effects are even greater because they sense that these meals really matter. Creating ways for them to engage in meaningful activity around holiday food will make this time even more special for them!
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