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If cries of “let me help” and “I want to do it myself” are the norm each time you pull out the pots and pans, never fear. Children have a natural fascination with cooking and baking. It has to do with their general need to touch, explore and fiddle with whatever gadget is put in front of them. This is not a bad thing, and can be rather educational when adult supervision is present.

Children can learn a lot from cooking. In fact, from an early age, they can see how separate ingredients are mixed together and then transformed into something else. For Kindergartners and First Graders, measuring solids and liquids turns into a teachable moment. They can also see how ingredients are divided into various parts. The idea of heat and degrees of hotness also invites interesting discussion. Older children can delve deeper into this concept.

Cooking and baking also give children a sense of independence and accomplishment. It also encourages cooperation. Assigning a simple task, such as pouring or stirring, makes kids feel important. They’re able to do it “themselves” and they can see the result of their efforts. Most of all, it boosts their self esteem, since they earn the distinction of being the “helper.”

Where to begin? The beginning, of course. That means simple, no-fail recipes. Try chocolate chip cookies, pan brownies, and muffins. Even a boxed mix will do, as long as each child has a responsibility. Let one child grease the pan, and another read the directions (if possible). Divide the ingredients so that each child has a chance to pour one in. And, let the kids take turns mixing.

A great kid-friendly undertaking is cookie-cutter cookies. Be sure to have plenty of fun-shaped cutters on hand. Kids love to cut out cookies and then decorate them. Try easy “gingerbread” men, which can be made with any sort of cookie dough. With one small, round cookie cutter, cut six circles, and arrange on a cookie sheet in the form of a “man”: one circle for the head, one for the body, two each for the arms and legs. After baking, let the kids frost and decorate the cookies with sprinkles, colored sugar, chocolate chips, raisins, licorice, etc.

Cooking and baking also allows for creative expression. With a little experience, children can even make a layer cake. They’ll have fun trying to balance the layers, and enjoy frosting the top and sides. Then, they can even decorate the top. Imagine how proud your children will feel when they bake you a birthday cake!

Even making simple sandwiches can be fun, and kids seem more likely to try new foods if they help in the preparation. For example, take basic cheese, peanut butter or bologna sandwiches and remove the crusts. Then, let each child cut his sandwich into a shape with a cookie cutter. Or, make an open-face sandwich and let the child design a face using olives, carrots, celery, cucumbers and green pepper. One clever mom even lets her children—under her watchful eye—make the actual sandwich, including spreading peanut butter on the bread with a safe, plastic knife.

So, the next time your child asks to help in the kitchen, relax. Let them learn, let them create, and also, be sure to let them clean up!