Cooking Up Some Communication! Tips From FOCUS Speech Therapists on Meal Prep as a Language Booster
Building kids’ speech and language skills isn’t just some magic we cook up in the clinic – it’s something you can do in your very own kitchen too! As our FOCUS speech therapists can explain, the more you can help your child try to practice their skills everywhere but the clinic, the better off they’ll be for it. What we’re aiming for here is something called carryover, and it’s something the American Speech Language and Hearing Association underscores can help those lessons “stick.”
This is especially important if they’re schooling, extracurricular activities and social events have been significantly curtailed during the pandemic. They’re going to need all the extra help they can get!
Our speech therapists recognize that cooking is a great activity because it not only helps them with lots of speech and language concepts (up, down, over, in, stir), there are math and science components, it encourages creativity, responsibility, teamwork and independence. Cooking can be a very naturally social activity, and it’s one that can help you make wonderful memories. Plus, it can be easily tailored to the child’s age and skill level with just a little planning. Start out with it just being you and your child, and once they get more comfortable with it, you can work your way up to have siblings and others involved – make a play date of it!
Social Skills of the Sous Chefs
The sous chef is the second-in-command in the kitchen. Anytime you’re working with high heat or open flames or sharp tools, it’s important that kids understand who is in charge and how important it is to listen carefully and follow directions.
But beyond that, anytime there is more than one cook in the kitchen, the whole group needs to work together – from planning to clean-up. That means having the recipe ready, deciding who gets to do what and ensuring everyone is doing their part to follow the recipe as a team. This is just the beginning of the important social skills kids can pick up in the cucina – and social skills inherently involve language. Among the other social skills they can work on:
- Being flexible. As anyone who has ever spent time in the kitchen knows, sometimes issues arise in the kitchen. Not every recipe goes perfectly as planned. Addressing these issues requires (among other things) flexibility. That’s not something that comes naturally to a lot of kids, but meal prep is a great place to practice because everyone is highly motivated by the end goal. This can start in the very beginning with planning what to make. Maybe you have different ideas. How can you compromise? What if an ingredient runs out? What else could you use instead? There are so many ways to be flexible while cooking and still end up with great results.
- Problem solving/small reactions. Mistakes happen. Milk spills. Eggs break. Someone uses salt instead of sugar. Cooks can’t cry every time something goes wrong (even though they might want to). When a small problem arises, model small reactions for your child. Talk out loud about how you’re feeling/what your reaction is. “Oh look, we spilled the milk. Not to worry! I can stay calm and clean it with a paper towel.” Have them help you problem solve while you’re planning. “We can’t find the cupcake pan? No big deal, let’s be flexible and just make a whole cake instead!”
- Unwritten social rules. In every social situation, there are lots of “hidden” social rules. That’s true whether you’re at the grocery store, cooking together or cleaning up. There is no sign at the store that says, “No line cutting,” but it’s important that we don’t do it. If you drop something on the floor, there’s no one telling you that you have to pick it up (or tell someone if you can’t), but it’s the kind and responsible thing to do. When you’re cooking, it’s important to respect each other’s space. If one person spills something, he or she should be the one to clean it up. Teach/remind them these things if they forget.
- Executive functioning. Cooking requires all sorts of executive functioning skills that will help boost a child’s social and communication skills. Have your child follow the checklist of ingredients, figure out how to gather those things on a strict budget, divvy up the work, determine the recipe steps, etc.
Ladling Up the Language – Speech Therapists’ Tips
There are so, SO many language skills you can whip up while you’re flipping flapjacks or churning out some chicken noodle. Some you might want to focus on:
- Sequencing. All recipes have an order they must follow to have the desired result. This is a sequence (first, second, next, then, last). For younger kids, you may want to keep it just a quick 3-5 steps, written down or using pictures so they can follow. Older kids can read through the recipe book with you. Have kids help you gather and arrange all the ingredients and necessary materials. Then give them just enough help so you can make sure they’re safe and generally following the recipe, but beyond that, let them shine!
- Reading. Reading recipes is a good way to practice literacy in a way that’s fun and interactive.
- Vocabulary. Hmm… What are, “measuring units?” What is “Allspice?” How do I “whisk” instead of “stir?” Cooking is a great way to expose your kids to all kinds of new words – and life skills!
- WH-Questions. If you read our FOCUS Blog regularly, you know we love WH-questions. They can get all kinds of natural practice with who-what-when-where-why and how while you’re cooking. “Where can you find the sugar?” “When should we flip the pancake?” “How much granola do we need?”
- Listening. It’s important that your child is not only communicating with you, but that they are understanding what you’re communicating with them. If your child is young, start by giving them a single-step directive. As they get older/more skilled, start giving them more detailed, multi-step instructions.
If you have questions about how to tailor activities like this to specifically target your child’s speech-and-language goals, just ask our speech therapists at FOCUS!
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
6 Ways Cooking With Kids Can Boost Literacy Skills, Jan. 25, 2018, Scholastic.com
More Blog Entries:
Why Speech Pathologists Focus So Much on “WH” Questions With Kids, Jan. 20, 2021, Fort Myers Speech Therapists’ Blog