Now that your little ones have helped you pick out fresh, delicious produce, have them help you prepare it! Here are three activities that help to develop your child’s fine motor skills and keep him or her amused and happy while you do the serious prep.
Disclaimer: The ages listed for each of these suggestions are not researched or standardized. Your child may be able to do more or less depending on who they are, and that’s wonderful!
Shucking corn requires strength and bilateral coordination. Simply put, bilateral coordination is using both sides of your body at the same time cooperatively. So, the act of holding the corn in one hand while pulling the husk sheaths with your other hand is bilateral coordination. Corn also offers wonderful opportunities for tactile (touch) input: the roughness of the husk sheaths; the stringiness of the silk; and the slick bumpiness of the kernels on the cob. Here is how your little one can help:
- 2-3 years old: You shuck the husk to the very last layer. Loosen the sheaths. Hold the corn while directing your little one to pull one sheath at a time. Give verbal encouragement and praise! You may need to pull the sheath to actually detach it from the cob.
- 3-4 years old: Same as for the 2-year-old, but let them try to hold the corn and pull the sheath at the same time. It will take them a while.
- 4-5 year old: Shuck the first couple of layers and loosen the rest. Then have your child finish shucking the rest! Remind your child to pull off one sheath at a time.
- 5+: Shucking corn can be done independently, though your child may still need assistance removing the outer layers of the husk, as well as the silk.
Though there are many ways to remove the small green leaves from your strawberries, hullers are a kid friendly way to get your child involved in food preparation while building hand strength. Simple hullers, like the one pictured below, work well for children over 2 years old, while more complicated hullers, like the one my son is using, are more appropriate for kids 5+. Both hullers use the power of the pinch to make them work, and the muscles required for the activity are the same muscles needed for utensil use, writing, and manipulating very small objects. Bilateral coordination also comes in to play, as you need to hold the strawberry with one hand while using the huller with the other. Please don’t expect your 2-5-year-old to do a clean job or to be quick with their work. The results may not always be pretty, but your child will feel as though they are helping and be proud to be working side-by-side with you!
First, I’d like to say that all carrot peelers are not equal. If you want your child to participate in this activity, find a peeler that has a thick, rubber handle and a sharp blade: the thicker handle is easier to grasp, the rubber prevents slippage, and the sharp blade requires less strength. Only you know if it’s appropriate to give you child anything with a blade. My older son started peeling carrots at a little over 2 years of age, but my younger son would most likely use the peeler as a sword or light saber (with lots of encouragement from his older brother), and so will not use a peeler until he’s a bit older.
Peeling carrots also requires bilateral coordination and strength, but unlike the other two activities listed, it also requires a grading of force. In other words, you have to put the just right amount of pressure on the carrot with peeler to catch the peel without breaking the carrot. This task can be tricky for a young child to achieve. Peeling the carrot first with your hands over theirs can help them gain the feeling of how much force they should use. Always stabilize the carrot by holding the thicker end, and peel the carrot away from you.
Your child will be so proud that she prepared the food she, her siblings and you ate. She won’t even notice that she was building her strength and motor skills in the process!