My eldest daughter is an artist. She loves to draw and create, and her art skills have been remarkable from a very young age. She loves to sit and look at books. She loves to quietly observe. She watches the world through her artist lens. She loves to cook, and quite literally begs me to let her cook more often.
My youngest daughter is an engineer. She loves to build things that do things. She is more interested in what things do and how they do it than in how they look. She is fascinated with gears and machines. She never stops moving, for her there is always more to dismantle and explore. And she has absolutely zero interest in learning to cook. None. Nada. Zip.
There is one thing the four year old likes to do in the kitchen, and that’s help fill the dishwasher. At first I thought this was sweet until I realized her interest stems from a desire to take the machine part and see how it works. Where does the water come out? Does this blade spin when it is turned on? Can I take it off and see? (No! Please do not dismantle the dishwasher. Mommy needs it to stay sane.)
Teaching my kids the basics of cooking is a priority for me. I feel that being able to cook your own meals from scratch is an important life skill, one that everyone should possess. Now my youngest is only four (well more like 4.5), and I’m sure sometime between now and when she moves out of the house I will manage to drill kitchen basics into her, even if I have to tie her down to a chair to do it. But I still find her complete lack of interest in cooking somewhat disheartening, so I’ve been trying to find ways to peak her curiosity, to get her to want to come and help me cook.
With big sister back in school, here we are with chunks of one on one time, and I figured it would be the perfect chance to make some cookies together. I mean who would turn down the chance to bake cookies? My four year old, that’s who.
Actually, initially, she was pretty excited. She helped me clear off and wipe down the table readily enough. She liked the part where we assembled all the ingredients, and despite the fact that she’s yet to learn to read she insisted I show her the recipe and she then studied it intently.
She liked touching and tasting each of the ingredients. Three grains of salt, a pinch of sugar, four chocolate chips. But as we started to mix butter, sugar and eggs together her interest started to waver. According to her, the mixture looked sort of gross and she didn’t see the point in mixing anything you couldn’t eat raw.
She did like the “mixing machine”, my grandmother’s old hand crank beater. She liked watching the gears on it spin round, for about four minutes or so, basically the length of time it took her to figure out how the handle made the blades spin, and then she was done.
She was quick to notice that things like dumping the ingredients into the bowl wasn’t really helping, and that mom could actually do this without her. I told her I liked her company. I tried to focus her eyes on the prize, with thoughts of eating a fresh oatmeal cookie. I threatened to go all Little Red Hen on her; sure I could bake the cookies all by myself, I could also eat them all by myself.
“I wish big sister were here.” “Oh, you miss her when she’s in school, eh?” “No… I wish she were here so SHE could help you instead and I could go do something else. This is boring.”
I figured once the dough was made and it came time to dump the cookies onto the baking tray she would get excited, but she refused to touch the dough. “It looks sort of disgusting.” she whispered in a low voice while trying to avert her eyes. “It looks like…” and she stopped and looked at me shyly. “Do you think it looks like poop?” I asked in a joking voice, knowing full well my children’s obsession with bodily functions. “No.” her voice was hesitant, “I… I’m not sure I should tell you what it looks like.” I wheedled her into telling me and she finally admitted that she thought the lumps of cookie dough looked like someone had “gotten sick”. Ew.
So her job was to hold on to mommy’s wedding ring while I plopped cookie dough onto the tray. As I formed the cookies she talked to me about how she wondered what would happen if she were to put my wedding ring into one of the cookies. How would it cook? Would it stay in the middle? Would it melt? I assured her it would stay there and make an unhappy crunchy surprise for someone’s tooth, “And by the way, where is mommy’s ring and could I have it back now please?”
I’m sharing this story with you partially because I think both her reluctance to learn to cook and her obsession with machines and gears is amusing, amusingly her, my little engineer. But also because I’m left wondering what I can do to make cooking interesting for her. I know, she’s only four, but I can’t help but compare her to her older sister, who’s constant urge to cook, from the youngest age, has often outstripped my patience for having kids with me in the kitchen.
Have you ever had a child that was reluctant to learn to cook? How did you tackle it? Assume they’ll come around to wanting to learn? Just ignore it and wait for them to ask? or entice them in some way? I’d love to hear your viewpoint.