Does your child have sensory issues? Do you have a child with special needs? Do you want to make cooking interesting and engaging for your child?
I recently read an interesting article published in the Sensory Focus Magazine. The article discussed how sensory enrichment therapy decreased autistic behaviors in children with Autism. After six months of receiving sensory enrichment therapy, the children in the study demonstrated in improvement by 42% as compared to the control group (who received traditional treatment) that only improved by 7%. To read this article, click here.
In this article, the author discusses how the children who were receiving sensory enrichment therapy were exposed to different scents, sounds and textures throughout the day. How can we incorporate these activities into something we do every day, like cooking? How can we make cooking an enriched sensory experience for our children?
Here are 10 ways to make cooking a sensory activity for you and your child:
1. Use spices! I have used spices for years with not only my children but also the children have worked with severe developmental disabilities. Some scents will “wake up” the system and others will relax the system. Whenever I smell cinnamon, I think of “home” Let your child smell different scents and have them describe it to you.
2. Expose your child to different textures of foods through touch. For example, a banana is smooth and an avocado has a bumpy skin. Put some ingredients in a box, tell your child to close their eyes and let him/her feel the different foods. Can they guess what food that is?
3. Expose your child to different textures of foods through taste. For example, tell your child to close their eyes and taste a particular food. Let your child describe the texture and taste of the food. For example, a carrot is crunchy and a banana is mushy.
4. Let your child explore foods with strong flavors. I have had many parents tell me that their child loves licking lemons and limes because they crave that strong taste. Try sour foods such as sour gummies or pickles. Define salty and sweet for them. Let them try a sour food, salty food and sweet food. Talk about the differences.
5. Play soft classical music during cooking time. Using classical music can help relax your child so they can focus on the task at hand.
6. Let your child do heavy work. This can be rolling out dough, mashing potatoes, mashing bananas or kneading dough. All of these activities can help a child staying attentive to the task. A couple of years ago, I took a strudel class at the ICE. Wow, that was a lot of hard physical work but definitely worth it in the end! For a child who is more sensory defensive, touching ingredients such as wet dough or mashing potatoes may be difficult. They may feel more comfortable using a tool so that their hands or clothes won’t be dirty. Adapt it to your child needs.
7. Expose your child to different temperatures of ingredients. For example, when making scones, I use very cold butter. For other recipes, I may melt the butter and it is slightly warm. Expose your child by having them touch certain ingredients with parental supervision (e.g. make sure something is not too hot). In the study discussed above, one of the exercises done during therapy was to have the child immerse their hands in water of different temperatures.
8. Use different ingredients to enhance the sensory experience. For example, use cool whip to top your pie and leave some leftover for your child to explore. Put some chocolate chips in there to add texture and increase complexity.
9. Add complexity to food by combining different textures and tastes. For example, make a yogurt parfait and add different layers of complexity such as granola, nuts, fruit and honey.
10. Make cleanup water play time! When washing the dishes, fill the sink with soap and water and let your child play with the water. This will be fun and they will also be getting the dishes clean!
I hope you find these tips helpful! I am writing this article from a parent’s perspective and from experience as a speech language pathologist. If you would like to try these tips with your child, share this article with your occupational therapist so she or he can adapt it to your child’s needs.
Young, Lyn Dunsavage. “Sensory Enrichment Therapy Increasing Cognitive Abilities and Decreasing Autistic Behaviors.” Sensory Focus Magazine. Spring 2014: 24-27. Web.