Parents of small children spend a lot of time in the kitchen, often with kids at our heels fussing because the food isn't ready yet, or wanting to explore the garbage can, refrigerator, or hot oven. Add a little structure to these times of the day with some simple early literacy activities.
- Read cereal boxes. Ever since I could read, I have always read the cereal box while I eat my cereal. Sometimes, they have puzzles and activities printed on the outside, which make them naturally appealing to kids, but even if they are just plain boxes, it is still fun to check out all the different fonts and styles of writing, as well as the interesting scientific words that appear in the ingredients. With pre-readers, the cereal box becomes an instant opportunity for a scavenger hunt. Assign each child a box and a letter of the alphabet, and see how long it takes them to find it somewhere on the box. With very young kids, take a moment to show them the letters of their name, or a letter they have just started being able to identify.
- Put on a cooking show. When a toddler is waiting impatiently for her breakfast, it can be fun to turn your preparation into a little cooking show where you are the star and your child is the viewer at home. Explain every step you take, no matter how small and then make a big show of completing each task. Your child will become so interested in learning the words for objects like "plate," "measuring cup" and "spoon" that she might forget to be upset that she has to wait two minutes to eat.
- Follow a recipe together. Kids who are more verbal and have decent motor skills can join you in your cooking adventures by helping you to follow a recipe. If you have time, this can be a more elaborate project - baking cookies or cake, marinating chicken, mixing up spaghetti sauce - but you can also create recipe cards for the simple everyday meals you make all the time, and allow your child to help identify each ingredient required.
- Take out interesting gadgets and teach your child their names. There are so many random gadgets in the kitchen, most of which we use without thinking much about their names. For young kids, though, these fun items - spatula, whisk, tongs, etc. - present opportunities for learning new vocabulary they will want to hear and repeat again and again. They also provide you with the chance to talk about other concepts, such as sizes, colors, and shapes.