by Elisabeth Stitt
Earlier this fall I wrote a blog called Set Your Kids Free: 10 Things They Need to Be Able to Do by Middle School. People really wanted to hear what they could expect from their kids by that age. But they were unsure how to get there. So, I wrote this guide to making pancakes to give you a sense of how to break down tasks. All learning can be scaffolded and all kids can learn--often much sooner than you than you think. Remember, your job is to do yourself out of a job one small skill at a time.
With Your Infant
Talk/sing to your child to narrate what you are doing as you do it:
Now it's time to measure the flour, measure the flour, measure the flour/Now it's time to measure the flour early in the morning. [crack the egg, mix the batter, test the pan, etc.]
With Your Toddler
Begin to ask, What do we need? What's first? As soon as he can safely stand on a sturdy stool next to the counter, you do the measuring but let him dump the contents [except the eggs] into the bowl. He can do the mixing. You get the pan to the right temperature. By putting your arms under his from behind, you are going to protect him from the hot pan. Hand him a small pitcher (like a creamer size) of batter and guide him as he pours it onto the pan. Do one pancake at a time to make the flipping easier. (You can have a second pan going at the back of the stove to actually feed the family!) Have him watch for bubbles in the batter. You take the spatula, lift up the pancake and flip it. When it is ready, guide his hands on the spatula and help him get the pancake to the plate. Put a spatula in his toybox, and he will start flipping all kinds of things.
With Your Preschooler
Show him the recipe. Model how you follow along with your finger and check that you have each ingredient. Have him gather all the ingredients he can reach (alone or with a low stool). Begin to have him do the measuring. It is easier to start with smaller measuring cups and a sturdy, wide-mouthed container for things like flour and sugar. For hard tasks like pouring out the salt, start by having him hold the spoon and scrape the excess off with the back side of a butter knife. If cracking the egg is hard, have him practice with half a dozen eggs at a different time, warning about the dangers of raw eggs and being super careful about his not putting his hands in his mouth. Teach him to wash his hands carefully afterwards. Flipping the cakes will get increasingly independent. Give him a hand when he needs it, but also be ready to sacrifice a few pancakes to the floor as he is learning.
With Your Kindergartner/First Grader
Have your child read the recipe. This should be easy as by now he should have memorized it. If he is struggling, print it out in the big type--a piece of paper is easier than a cookbook--and read it aloud with him. At this point, you and your child have made a ton of pancakes. By this time, he should be capable of handling the whole process on his own, with a few assists in turning on the stove and checking the pan temperature. You will be standing near by--at the ready in case anything becomes dangerous--but you will let your child make mistakes (like putting the bowl too close to the edge of the counter and having the whole thing tip onto the floor!). Remember, the purpose here is not the pancakes. The purpose is the learning. Having to clean up a bowl of batter is a much better teacher than reminding him for the millionth time.
With Your Second/Third Grader
Your child makes you pancakes. You eat them up happily. Whoo hoo! Good job, Parents!
Breaking It Down
Pancakes are a great place to begin with independence because children love to eat them, so you have built in motivation. But you can break down any task and engage your kids in it--making their beds, doing the laundry, planting a garden. You name it. When kids master skills, they feel important, and when those skills help the family, they feel needed. That brings families together.
Are you afraid that you are doing too much for your kids and that you are failing to teach them to stand on their own two feet? Not to worry. Earlier is better, but it is never too late. Just give it a go, starting wherever your child is developmentally ready and going one step at a time.
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