Working in the kitchen is a great developmental tool for your little one

Home » Working in the kitchen is a great developmental tool for your little one

Having your child ‘help’ you in the kitchen, gives you extra quality time to spend with them, especially on a busy day when time is limited.

It will also make them feel like they are contributing to the family life, while numerous developmental areas are being stimulated.

Mysmartkid expert, Susanne Hugo, an Occupational Therapist, gives us the lowdown on how your child can benefit from activities in the kitchen.

Here are a few examples of areas that can be stimulated while they’re busy in the kitchen:

  • Strengthening hand muscles: When kneading dough or rubbing butter and flour together to make crumble.
  • Bilateral integration: When rolling dough.
  • Creativity/artistic skills: When decorating a cake or cookies.
  • Fine motor skills/coordination: Threading fruit on to skewers.
  • Counting and measuring: When measuring the ingredients and counting the number of cups of flour used to bake bread.
  • Vocabulary: Learning new words like vanilla essence and lemon zest.
  • Hand-eye coordination: Cutting soft fruits like a banana for fruit salad.

Working in the kitchen stimulates various senses



  • Sweet: sugar/icing sugar/honey
  • Bitter: broccoli/celery
  • Spicy: mustard/ginger
  • Salty: chips/fish
  • Sour: lemon/vinegar


  • Difference citrus fruits
  • Vinegar
  • Spices


  • Different textures and temperatures: sugar, flour, ice, warm water, etc.


  • For example, when whisking, breaking eggs, sieving flour, and so on.


  • Decorating cakes and cookies: seeing the different ingredients used to make food.

Age specific activities

2 – 3 years

  • Let your child assist you with setting the table.
  • Stir and mix ingredients.
  • Assist her with cutting biscuits and sandwich shapes using cookie cutters.
  • Help pack away the ingredients and utensils that were used.
  • Assist you in cleaning the kitchen afterwards.
  • Parallel play occurs during this age. Thus, give your child the same activity you are doing, for example washing potatoes, but give him his own bowl of water and potatoes to wash. Let him sit next to you, so he can copy what you do, but still do it on his own.

3 – 4 years (Also the activities as mentioned under 2 – 3 years old)

  • Gradually associative play will replace parallel play. Thus, you can do more and more tasks together with your child, like baking a cake together or preparing a meal.
  • Icing cookies: Prepare yourself! This will be messy!
  • Rolling dough.
  • Using cookie cutters to make different shape cookies.
  • Kneading dough: Let him press, squeeze and break pieces off.
  • Your child’s skills in terms of throwing fluid from jug to jug will also improve. He can, from about three and a half years, throw water into a glass from a jug.
  • Give him tasks where he must open and close the tap.
  • Let your child assist you in packing away.

4 – 5 years:

  • Let him help lay the table.
  • Icing cookies: By now he will be more precise and less messy!
  • He will now start appreciating the end-product and will be proud of it, thus let him help to complete a dish and show him the end-result. Give him the opportunity to show others what he did and let him be proud of it.
  • He can now compare objects in terms of size, weight and length. Thus, make him aware of the different sizes of measuring cups, let him weigh food, etc.
  • He will also be able to carry a cup with fluid without wasting any.
  • Give him the opportunity to start using a knife and fork when preparing food or when eating.

5 – 6 years:

  • Let him set the table on his own.
  • He can now start using a knife to cut food (just make sure it’s safe).
  • He can now dish his own food and ask him to assist in dishing for others.
  • Give him opportunities to make his own sandwiches.
  • He can carry dishes on a tray.
  • He can wash dirty dishes, but may need help when drying them.
  • He can clean the dirty table.


  • Patience is key! Kitchen tasks will take much longer when your child assists, but remember all he is learning when doing so!
  • Encourage experiments and let his imagination run wild, for example when decorating cookies.
  • Embrace the imperfection of your child’s creation/dish. Always make him feel proud of what he has made, even if it doesn’t look exactly as it is supposed to.
  • Involve your child in choosing, preparing and helping to cook food.
  • When busy in the kitchen, introduce concepts like one and many, big and small, thick and thin, the same and different.
  • Your child will still have a short concentration span, so do not force him to help you until the dish (product) is finished.
  • Things will get messy, so remember to put an apron on for your child if you don’t want him to mess on his clothing.

Susanne is an Occupational Therapist, based at Tygerberg Hospital since 2010. Susanne has a Bachelors in Occupational Therapy and completed her practical community service year in East London. She is Mysmartkid’s expert for the developmental areas of Wellbeing and Concepts.