I have been looking forward to cooking with my kids long before I had children. It's an awesome way to share time and prepares kids for their own future kitchens. I never realized what great therapy opportunities were built into cooking, or how it could be a substitute for the arts and crafts projects my typically developing son dislikes. Here are some tips to make it easier for your child with fine motor or visual impairments to enjoy holiday baking with you:
1)Break down the baking project into stages. Choose recipes that let you make the dough ahead of time, cut and bake one day, decorate another. You can freeze most cookie dough and finish the cookies later, or give a break of a few hours between the stages of preparing the cookies. Make or color frostings and sugars with your child's help the day before you want to decorate your treats.
2) Let your child help with only one part of the activity, and you complete the rest. Or you can do the majority of the prep and leave a small portion for your child to do to keep the activity flowing. Keep it short - they don't have to cut out all three dozen cookies. 3) Set up cooking show style. If measuring is not a goal, then pre-measure ingredients into little bowls and cups.
4) If you are going to let your child measure ingredients, consider putting the ingredients into a smaller container then letting her pour or scoop from that into the measuring cup. A gallon of milk is heavy! And there's less waste and clean-up if something's spilled or dropped.
5) If your child has gross motor challenges, have them sit instead of stand while cooking. If the point is fine motor fun then don't challenge them with having to stand and reach.
6) Use rolling pin spacers so the rolled dough will be even.
7) Separate cookie dough into small batches before rolling then use food coloring to create visual contrast between the batches. Use powdered sugar instead of flour when rolling and cutting the cookies so you won't have white patches on the finished cookies.
8) Use colored sugars instead of frosting for festive cookies that are quick and simple. Let your child help make the colored sugars by pouring sugar into a ziptop bag and adding a little bit of food coloring. Massaging the bag to mix the sugar and color is a great hand strengthening exercise! Use a a spoon, fingertips, or kitchen shaker to sprinkle the colored sugar on the cookies before baking.
9) Flip your cookie sheets over if they have sides and roll and cut the dough on the bottom of the cookie sheet. Remove the background from the cutouts, and bake the cookies in the same spot that they were cut to prevent the cookies from falling apart when they are transferred to the cookie sheet. Much less frustrating!
10) Talk! About everything - colors, shapes, smells, actions, your family's holiday traditions, how much you love sharing this moment with your child, how easy and fun they are making holiday baking for you. Talk it up!
11) Have your child make cinnamon sugar in a ziptop bag, then place some of the cookies in the bag while still a little warm and gently shake.
12) Crush candy canes and other hard candies and mix into sugar cookie dough. Place the candy in a ziptop bag or between sheets of wax paper and beat with a toy hammer or rolling pin. Encourage your child to use their hands to mix the candy into small batches of dough.
13) If you are making chocolate chip cookies, have your child press the chocolate chips into the cookie dough before baking instead of mixing them into the dough.
14) Decorate with large edibles so your child has to pick them up and place them on the cookies - raisins, all the different flavored baking morsels, jumbo sprinkles, nuts.
15) Let your child spread a simple layer of white frosting on cookies and decorate with sprinkles from a shaker for high contrast. Or use colored frosting and top with coconut.
16) Use a combination of frosting, dyed dough, colored sugars, cinnamon sugar, and large edibles to create variety from one batch of cookie dough. It's festive, visually stimulating, fun, and brings in a range of fine motor movements to one activity.
17) If your child doesn't like hand over hand help, then have them place a hand over yours while you frost - it's like helping make yummy magic!
18) Don't forget the cupcakes - your child can place liners in a muffin tin, spoon or pour batter and, of course, decorate.
19) And always make clean-up a part of every project - even if he just hands you one little thing to throw away, it's an important life skill.
20) Serve your child what they made - even if they normally wouldn't eat something like this. You never know!
21) Brag about how great your child did and how yummy their food is when they can hear you. Give their goodies away and let them help with packaging or delivery. Even if they are not perfect, they are blessed by your child's touch!