Peeling Cucumbers

Peeling is a challenging activity that aids young children’s developing muscle strength. The repetitive action of peeling helps them gain control over their fine motor skills and also draws them into bouts of focus and concentration. Peeling not only engages their tiny fingers but also their mind in a constructive activity whilst building judgement and coordination. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 2.5 – 3 years depending on the fine motor skill of the child. 

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized cucumber/carrot
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 sturdy and small peeler (I prefer Y peelers) 
  • 1 medium sized bowl for peels 

Preparation

I have observed that children have a better latch over the peel when the edges of the vegetable are cut. This can be done by the adult while the child watches. I also prefer not to hold and guide the child’s hand while they are peeling. This gives adults complete control but a very false sense of ‘peeling’ to the eager child. If you find that you are anxious, increase the challenge gradually by having them collaborate in the process. Also, refrain from telling them how to peel because this shifts attention from peeling to talking. Instead, just show them how it is done and have them repeat after you. 

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide 

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel a cucumber today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 

IMG_3008

Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 

IMG_2986

Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable.

IMG_2989

Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 

IMG_2992

Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel.

IMG_2994

Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 

IMG_2998

Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 

IMG_3001

Rotate around and continue peeling. Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 

IMG_3005

Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel  a cucumber today.” 
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 
  • Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. 
  • Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 
  • Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable. 
  • Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 
  • Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel. 
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 
  • Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. 
  • It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 
  • Rotate around and continue peeling. 
  • Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 
  • Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. 
  • Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Note : You can also cut the cucumber in half to prevent it from rolling. I have used Persian Cucumbers. Use whatever is locally available. 

Breaking Beans

Green Beans are healthy, juicy and crunchy vegetables that are rich in nutrients. Very young children, just inducted into the kitchen, find the single step process of breaking beans just enough to challenge and hold their attention. The slender pods of the green beans help the child’s tender hands find strength in breaking them; there is joy in discovering tiny green beans inside. The repetition of the same step helps them gain confidence and a sense of completion of a task from start to finish.

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children as young as 16 – 19 months. Even if they aren’t walking well, the adult can set this activity up at a table with a seat for the child to challenge their fine motor skills and muscle strength.

Things Required

  • 1 bowl (with a handful of green beans)
  • 1 colander

Preparation

Traditionally, green beans come with a thin string that runs along the seam. If you find this variety, for younger children, it is better to pick pods with the stalk. That way, we can show them to snap the stalk and also pull the string. In this recipe, I have used beans that do not have the string and can just be snapped in two. Also, a point to note is that when beans are steamed, there is usually no need to pull the string.

If you prefer, you are also free to trim the edges of the beans before setting the activity up for the child. In that case, it is nice to show them how you trim the edges. The child can be involved in discarding the edges.

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your home!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let us break some beans and steam them for lunch.”  Introduce everything at the table. It is nice to point to the pods and even create an element of surprise on what will be inside when we snap the pods. 

IMG_3110

It is also wonderful to describe some physical properties for children such as “Oh these beans are green in colour, they are slender and long.” etc.

IMG_3118

Show the child to take and hold a pod in both hands.

IMG_3117

Exaggerate applying pressure and break the beans into two pieces.

IMG_3121

Point to the surprise in the pod – the tiny green beans.

IMG_3125

If you find that even after breaking, the beans are long, you can just casually remark, “Oh, this is still long, I am going to make it shorter” and then just snap it again.

Green Beans Extra.jpg

Place the broken beans in the colander. Let the child break beans however they can.

IMG_3129

Once the beans are broken, they can be taken in the colander for washing. Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash.

IMG_3131

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let us break some beans and steam them for lunch.”
  • Introduce everything at the table. It is nice to point to the pods and even create an element of surprise on what will be inside when we snap the pods. It is also wonderful to describe some physical properties for children such as “Oh these beans are green in colour, they are slender and long.” etc.
  • Show the child to take and hold a pod in both hands.
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and break the beans into two pieces.
  • Point to the surprise in the pod – the tiny green beans.
  • If you find that even after breaking, the beans are long, you can just casually remark, “Oh, this is still long, I am going to make it shorter” and then just snap it again.
  • Place the broken beans in the colander.
  • Let the child break beans however they can.
  • Once the beans are broken, they can be taken in the colander for washing.
  • Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash.

Making Peas Pulav

Peas Pilaf or Pulav is an aromatic rice made using a variety of spices and green peas. It is a wonderful multi-step activity that helps young children in sequencing and organising steps and coordinating their fine motor movements. The control required in spooning rice and peas, pouring water and calculating when to close the water dispenser are simple challenges that make the activity exciting. Not to mention, the aromatic spices are a treat to the olfactory and gustatory senses.

Who is this for?

I would begin around 22- 24 months

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized bowls (½ cup shelled green peas)
  • 1 medium bowl (1 cup long-grain basmati rice)
  • 1 pitcher (water)
  • 1 small bowl (2 tbsp ghee or soft butter)
  • 1 small bowl (2 – 3 cloves)
  • 1 small bowl (cumin seeds)
  • 1 small bowl (salt to taste)
  • 1 mixing ladle
  • 1 spoon
  • 1 rice cooker

Preparation

I generally do not recommend pre-measuring water in a cup because walking up and down to fetch water and learning when to close and open the water-dispenser challenges young children’s judgement and developing gross motor coordination. I also do not prefer to crowd the pulav with too many spices especially when young children are smelling, tasting and mixing.

Slicing onions are a wonderful step that can be added to the recipe. Onions can be sliced by the adult since they are tough roots. However, the tears that come while slicing onions, the spicy taste and aromatic smell of onions are all wonderful experiences to offer young children who can assist in discarding the skin, washing the onion, etc.

As always, you are the best judge of what works for your child in your kitchen!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let’s go and make peas pulao for dinner.” Introduce all the ingredients at the table.

IMG_2880

Let the child touch and feel the tough peas, the washed rice and smell the spices and ghee.

IMG_2881.jpg

Show the child to spoon the rice into the cooker.

IMG_2887

Move the peas to the front and the empty rice bowl to the back to give better access to the child. Show the child to spoon the peas into the cooker. 

IMG_2892

Once they have been transferred, mix the two well.

IMG_2902

Show the child to measure two cups of water and pour into the cooker. Let the child pour however they can.

IMG_2908.jpg

Transfer the cumin, cloves and the salt into the cooker.

IMG_2909.jpg

Bring the ghee bowl closer to the cooker and pour it into the cooker.

IMG_2914.jpg

Mix all the ingredients well.

IMG_2916.jpg

The child can carry it to the plug source and the adult can plug it in. Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash. Once the rice is done, take in the aroma and warmth of the pulao.

IMG_2938

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let’s go and make peas pulao for dinner.”
  • Introduce all the ingredients at the table. Let the child touch and feel the tough peas, the washed rice and smell the spices and ghee.
  • Show the child to spoon the rice into the cooker.
  • Move the peas to the front and the empty rice bowl to the back to give better access to the child. 
  • Show the child to spoon the peas into the cooker. 
  • Show the child to spoon the peas into the cooker.
  • Once they have been transferred, mix the two well.
  • Show the child to measure two cups of water and pour into the cooker. Let the child pour however they can.
  • Transfer the cumin, cloves and the salt into the cooker.
  • Bring the ghee bowl closer to the cooker and pour it into the cooker.
  • Mix all the ingredients well.
  • The child can carry it to the plug source and the adult can plug it in.
  • Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash.
  • Once the rice is done, take in the aroma and warmth of the pulao.

Note

Since the recipe calls for several small bowls, as you finish transferring, you can tell the child that the bowl is empty and move it to the side. Washing Rice and Shelling Peas are separate activities which can be viewed here. 

Shelling Peas

There is something delicious and sweet about fresh, juicy peas that frozen peas can never offer. Shelling peas may seem futile for many adults, but the young child absolutely enjoys the challenge. There is enough stimulation to hold their attention and refine their fine motor skills, not to mention the sheer joy in discovering tiny peas hiding in each pod. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 22 – 24 months 

Things Required

  • 2 small bowls – one for the pea pods and one for the peas
  • 1 plate – to save the pods for later use
  • Access to more pea pods in case child wants to shell more

Preparation

Sometimes, the pods come along with the stalk. In that case, we need to show the child to pull the stalk along the seam before we shell them open. I have used peas without the stalk in this. I generally prefer to use firm and plump pods because these are easier for the young hands to break open.

As always, you are the best judge of what works well in your kitchen for your child!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Remember, we bought some fresh snap peas in the market? Let’s shell them.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what we need and gather them together.

IMG_0059

Show the child the seam that runs along the pod on both sides.

IMG_0066.jpg

Place the pod on the table to give more support (for the child). Using the support of the non-dominant hand near the opening, press thumb of dominant hand into the seam to create an opening. 

IMG_0067

Use both thumbs  in widening the opening.

IMG_0083

Point to the peas in the pod.

IMG_0103

Child and you can pull each pea out and place in the bowl for the peas.

IMG_0106.jpg

Show the child to put the used pods in the compost or save them for later. Let the child press and open the pod however they can. Alternatively, you can give support by creating the first opening for very young children. 

IMG_0110.jpg

Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Remember, we bought some fresh snap peas in the market? Let’s shell them.”
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what we need and gather them together.
  • Show the child the seam that runs along the pod on both sides.
  • Place pod on the table to give more support (for the child)
  • Using the support of the non-dominant hand near the opening, press thumb of dominant hand into the seam to create an opening.
  • Use both thumbs  in widening the opening.
  • Point to the peas in the pod.
  • Child and you can pull each pea out and place in the bowl for the peas.
  • Show the child to put the used pods in the compost or save them for later.
  • Let the child press and open the pod however they can. Alternatively, you can give support by creating the first opening for very young children.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash. 

Washing Rice

Washing rice is a tradition that has been sacredly followed in many cultures for several generations. Children growing up in such environments watch this activity on a daily basis. This familiarity creates enthusiasm and since it involves water, they relish it. The texture of the dry rice as against the wet rice, the unique scent of each rice and their colour, along with the eye-hand coordination and muscle strength that this activity requires, contribute to an engaging and rich sensory experience.

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children older than 18 months.

Things Required

  • 1 small bowl for rice (white, brown, black or red)
  • 1 medium pitcher for water
  • 1 rice washing colander 
  • 1 medium bowl for the starchy water 

Preparation

Usually, as adults, we wash rice at the sink by holding the colander in one hand and washing with the other. This is hard for young children who lack that kind of control. Also, most sinks at our homes are at adult height and for a toddler to stand on a step stool and handle the colander and water is inconvenient. For this reason, I find that having everything at a table frees the child to focus on the task in hand. An older child, who has more balance and control over water usage can wash directly at the sink.

Some families are sentimental about wastage of rice. In such a case, minimise the quantity of rice in the bowl or switch to a smaller bowl.

I also feel that we need to find a balance between child size tools and adult tools in the kitchen. For instance, in this recipe I have used an adult colander because I feel the child can achieve the purpose of the task with this colander. These are also ways to communicate to the child that our worlds can meet and merge in the kitchen! As always, you are the best judge of what will work in your home for your child!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.” Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

IMG_3035

Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.

IMG_3039

Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.

IMG_3042

Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.

IMG_3047

Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.

IMG_3049

Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl. 

IMG_3053

It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 

IMG_3069

Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing. I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels. Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

IMG_3072

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.”
  • Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.
  • Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.
  • Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.
  • Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.
  • Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.
  • Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. 
  • Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl.
  • It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 
  • Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing.
  • I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

Making Lassi

Lassi, also known as buttermilk, is a drink that is had in most Indian households. Since curd is an integral part of Indian meals, children get to see someone in the home busily churn buttermilk on those hot and humid afternoons. Lassi-making is a multi-step activity that draws young children because it involves pouring water, transferring the curd and churning the mixture. Traditionally, in South India, we use a மத்து (matthu) to churn the buttermilk, but in this case, I have used a whisk.

Who is this for?

I would begin around 20 months.

Things Required

  • 3 small bowls for (jaggery, cardamom and saffron) 
  • 1 tumbler/pitcher for water
  • 1 medium size bowl for thick curd
  • 1 spoon for the curd
  • 1 large bowl for whisking
  • 1 small whisk
  • Glasses for sharing

Preparation

I find that to spoon curd into a bowl calls for more focus and eye-hand coordination which challenges young children. They may lose interest if they are older. Instead of having water in a tumbler, walking to fetch water is an option which young children, who have just begun walking, enjoy.

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “It’s such a hot day, let’s make some sweet lassi for all of us.” Introduce everything on the tray (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together. Pause and take in the aroma, texture and appearance of each of the spices – jaggery, saffron and cardamom.

Lassi 1

Show the child to spoon the curd into the whisking bowl.

Lassi 2

Pour the water into the bowl.

Lassi 3

Now guide the child to add each of the spices.

Lassi 4

Begin whisking! This movement needs to be exaggerated and slowed down for the child to observe! When the child repeats after, let them whisk however they can.

Lassi 5

Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash)

Lassi 6

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “It’s such a hot day, let’s make some sweet lassi for all of us.”
  • Introduce everything on the tray (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together.
  • Pause and take in the aroma, texture and appearance of each of the spices – jaggery, saffron and cardamom.
  • Show the child to spoon the curd into the whisking bowl.
  • Pour the water into the bowl.
  • Now guide the child to add each of the spices.
  • Begin whisking. This movement needs to be exaggerated and slowed down for the child to observe.
  • Let the child whisk however they can.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash)

Orange Peeling

Estimated Time to Read: 3 minutes


Oranges are juicy, delicious fruits with so many sensorial properties that draw children’s attention. Peeling oranges gives very young children just the right amount of challenge to hold their interest. Pulling of the peel is a fine-motor challenge that aids eye-hand coordination and muscle strength. It also gives them a sense of satisfaction, combined with a desire to do for the family.

When to offer?

I would begin anywhere between 15 – 18 months. 

Things Required

  • An easy-to-peel orange (mandarins, pixie mandarins, sumo mandarins, tangerines and clementines)
  • 2 medium-sized bowls – 1 for the full orange and 1 for the peels.
  • 1 serving plate (optional) – to arrange the slices on a platter for sharing
  • Access to a basket with some more oranges (in case child wants to peel more than one)

Preparation

With very young children, I find it useful to score the oranges on the bottom which makes it easier for their hands to find and pull the peel apart. Alternatively, you can begin by removing the first peel and the child can follow. As always, you are the best judge of what works for your child! 

Jaanu Food Prep-17

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Come with me, I’m going to show you how to peel some oranges.” Introduce everything at the table (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together. With young children, it is lovely to smell and feel the orange and talk about it’s name and colour.

Jaanu Food Prep-6

Place the orange flat on the table, holding it with one hand to give support and show the child to pull the peel using the other hand. I usually hold the peel with a two finger-thumb grasp (different size oranges require different grasps) because I find that this gives children a good support when they repeat after me.  Make sure you exaggerate the pulling of the peel!

Jaanu Food Prep-20

Once the peel is apart, just place it in the bowl for the peels.

Jaanu Food Prep-23

Let the child peel however they can. Now, you can offer to hold the orange down while the child peels or take turns peeling and holding.

 Once the orange is peeled, you can have the child arrange each slice on the serving plate to share with the family.

Jaanu Food Prep-25

Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash). If you make dishes with the orange peel, tell the child and save it for later.

Short Guide

  • Begin with an invitation, “Come with me, I’m going to show you how to peel some oranges.”
  • Introduce everything at the table (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together.
  • With young children, it is lovely to smell and feel the orange and talk about it’s name and colour.
  • Place the orange flat on the ground, holding it with one hand to give support and show the child to pull the peel using the other hand.
  • I usually hold the peel with a two finger-thumb grasp (different size oranges require different grasps) because I find that this gives children a good support when they repeat after me.
  • Make sure you exaggerate the pulling of the peel.
  • Once the peel is apart, just place it in the bowl for the peels.
  • Let the child have a turn. Now, you can offer to hold the orange down while the child peels.
  • Once the orange is peeled, you can have the child arrange each slice on the serving plate to share with the family.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash)
  • If you make dishes with the orange peel, tell the child and save it for later.