Cooking and Communication!
Cooking is a great summer activity that you can do with your kids to support their social communication and language skills while they are out of school this summer. It encourages independence, creativity, responsibility, teamwork, and more. You can cook simple snacks with your little ones, or more complicated meals with your older children. Start by cooking with just you and your child to introduce some of the concepts and skills that are described below, and eventually work up to cooking with your child and his friends during a playdate.
Social skills you can teach through cooking:
Following a group plan: When there is more than 1 chef in the kitchen, the chefs have to learn to work together. The group should work together to complete all the steps - from planning all the way through clean-up. That means that they need to read the recipe together, divvy up tasks, and follow along with the recipe as a team. Though this may be challenging for your child that likes to be in charge, you can give your child choices of steps he’d like to complete so he can maintain some control while learning to work with his partners.
Flexibility: Though your child will be expected to stick with the group plan and follow a recipe, all chefs know that sometimes issues arise in the kitchen that require flexible thinking. Cooking is a fun way to practice flexible thinking skills because there is a highly motivating end goal that everyone wants to reach. Start by deciding as a group what recipe to make. If you have a different idea than your child, have him practice flexible thinking skills and find a recipe that is a compromise (rather than just cooking what he chooses). If an ingredient is missing or runs out, model flexibility for him by replacing it with a similar ingredient. There are countless ways they can practice being flexible while they cook, and still end up with a delicious treat.
Problem solving/small reactions: Sometimes mistakes happen as we cook. Eggs break. Milk spills. And when we cook with our kids, we give them a chance to literally practice not crying over spilled milk (or broken eggs). As small problems arise, model small reactions for your child by narrating your feelings/reactions. You may say something like, “oh boy, we broke an egg on the floor. No big deal! I’ll stay calm and clean it up.” They can also practice problem solving by shopping for ingredients and finding materials in the kitchen before they begin. Is the cake pan missing? Oh well, let’s be flexible and make cupcakes instead.
Hidden rules: It is important to teach your child to think of the hidden - or unwritten, social rules - of every situation, and that includes the kitchen and the grocery store. When we cook together, we share a space with each other and we need to respect that space. Encourage him to think of the perspectives of other people in the kitchen by cleaning up the area if he spills, when the sink is full, and after your finished cooking.You can also have him practice thinking of hidden rules at the grocery store. For example, he can practice remembering and respecting hidden rules such as: we don’t cut another shopper in line, we only go in the express line if we have fewer than 10 items, we don’t leave objects that you drop on the floor, etc.
Executive functioning: When we target executive functioning, we support our children’s social communication skills. And cooking is a fantastic way to target executive functions. Kids can make and follow a checklist of ingredients they need, work within a budget, divide up and accomplish steps in the recipe, and more.
Language skills you can teach through cooking:
Sequencing: Recipes are all about following a sequence. For younger kids, write down 3-5 steps in short, clear sentences for them to follow as you cook. For older kids, read through the recipe together before you begin. Have your child collect and organize the ingredients/materials and then follow the recipe. Provide just enough support to keep them safe (and on target with the recipe), but encourage them to follow along as independently as possible!
Vocabulary: You can expose your child to tons of new vocabulary words as you cook together. Between spices, measuring units, cooking techniques, textures, tastes, etc., your child can learn lots of new vocabulary words while you cook this summer that will support their academic skills during ELA, math, science, and life skills classes come September.
Literacy: Speaking of academic skills, reading a recipe is a fun and easy way to get your child to read over the summer months when reading may be the last thing on their mind. You read together, then you cook together, and then you enjoy a delicious treat together.
WH-Questions: Answering wh-questions can be targeted in a fun, low-pressure way when cooking together. While we never want to overload our children by asking too many wh-questions, there are many types of wh-questions that you can practice with your child as you cook. Where do you find the milk, when do we take the cake out of the oven, how much sugar do we need, and so on.
Listening comprehension: Help your child comprehend detailed and multi-step directions while you cook. For example, you might say to your child: “get the milk and eggs from the refrigerator,” or “first mix in the sugar and then mix in the flour.”
These are just some of the benefits of cooking together on language and social communication skills. Read through these summer recipes, and decide as a group what to make. And most importantly, enjoy the time you get to spend together while you cook and while you eat!