There is nothing kids love more than a chance to lick the beaters. Lillian Lake

Getting up close with baking in the kitchen. Lillian Lake

As an adult, cooking in the kitchen with children is an activity I think I’ve always loved. For one thing, it’s taught me patience. Beyond that, I love to see their delighted faces when they create something magical. And let’s face it, for some of us, cooking does seem magical. Or is that a “miracle”?

When we homeschooled, I used cooking as a means of teaching reading, math, history, art, and science. I remember days when we would spend the entire afternoon exploring how applying different liquids to eggs and analyzing the results taught them about the digestive system. Cooking uses all subjects with as much depth as you wish, so it’s an appropriate tool for learning.

Cooking and baking are also a time for fun, exploration, and lessons for success. When one of the children was little, I thought about 3; she was especially interested in watching me make bread. She particularly loved waiting for it to rise in its bowl, then come running to poke it down and watch it grow again. In later years she joined me with reading recipes, measuring, and experimenting with different ingredients. For her, making volcanoes in the kitchen was for amateurs! It makes me chuckle to think of her tenacity, brilliance, and vision.

In the early days of raising children, I was focused on praising them for their success and looking for ways they had done “a good job” and strive to balance that with expecting them to do their best. I often failed in both quests, but I think overall, I was successful as they have all grown to be great cooks in their own right. None of them are afraid of disasters in trying new “concoctions.” In spite of the fact I handwrote 72 recipes of their favorites one year and gifted them in a recipe box, they still text me for suggestions on how to put ingredients together or to share photos of their newest creations.

As I write the introduction for my first children’s cookbook, I’ve been thinking about those early days. It’s essential, of course, to praise children. It’s also necessary, whether they are building towers in the living room or tall cakes in the kitchen, to allow them to create just to create and not for external praise or reward. Allow them to feel their accomplishment. Allow them to do their evaluation, but encourage them not to focus on perfection all the time. Encourage them to see the beauty in the creation just because they made it. Let them be excited about what they are doing.

So, about those compliments. By all means, compliment children. Say nice things about their ability to read directions, colorfully design cakes, and serve perfectly steamed vegetables. Pay attention, however, to your motivation and your child’s motivation. Is she doing the activity because it’s enjoyable or just because she wants the praise?

Don’t forget to sprinkle in for good measure, the words “good job” and “nice accomplishment”.

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