I write a weekly column, "Questions Parents Ask" at Lifeworks.com. With my son heading away to Scout Camp this weekend, I reread a post I had written one year ago about the lessons I'd learned the first time I saw this group of kids gain autonomy the moment the stepped away from their parents.
Both my children enjoy helping out in the kitchen. When the three of us were away at Cub Camp this weekend, I realized how much of an impediment I am to letting them not only gain independence, but also to seizing the opportunity to free myself of some cooking duties at home.
Often, once I begin preparing a meal, one (or both) of them will chime in "Can I help?" Occasionally I will say yes, but, more often than not, I will tell them there are too many hot pots, hot liquids, and sharp knives. Also, we're often in a bit of a rush so I really just want to get this done so we can sit down and eat.
At Camp, every meal was taken care of by the campers. There was an assigned rotation with two or three kids cooking and two or three others cleaning up. Yes, there was an adult supervising, but that supervision involved giving a quick demonstration of what needed to be done, and then sipping coffee and making sure safety protocols were being followed. Sure, the meals took longer to prepare -- and they weren't always pretty -- but sipping a cup of Arabica was far better than mixing, pouring, and flipping flapjacks.
I was close to flabbergasted as I watched my kids and the rest of the crew prepare my meals and wash the pots -- outside in the cold, with a smile! What was I doing wrong at home?
First (and this is a mainstay of modern parenting), I am so often rushed that I feel I have no time to step back and let them create disaster. This may be a difficult routine to change during the school week, but on the weekend? I can surely find 20 extra minutes to let junior cooks help.
Second: I see injuries waiting to happen at every turn. Yes, knives are sharp and water is hot. But, I should adopt part of the "See, Do, Teach" approach. Show them once, step away, and make sure safety protocols are followed as they chop away.
It is one thing to teach children autonomy and responsibility. It's another to realize it's already within them, and we may just be that one cook too many in the kitchen.