Family fun in the kitchen


Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:28 a.m.
With their seemingly endless cooking and cleaning chores, kitchens can seem more a source of angst than amusement.
But that's only because in most homes, the kitchen is an underutilized source of inexpensive, simple fun. Not what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation fun, but potentially much better.
Kitchens abound with opportunities for easy crafts and games that can pull children out of rainy day doldrums and help parents pull them away from the television or video games.
"The least obvious benefit and probably the most important is that you're making memories and making traditions," said Nancy Hopkins, deputy food and entertaining editor at Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
"It's the small things that stick and the children will remember them for the rest of their lives," she said.
While cooking with your children is a great start, kitchen fun need not be about eating. This is the time to tell children it's OK to play with their food, then lead the way by doing a bit of your own playing.
But first, some advice for ensuring that fun doesn't turn into frustration.
Embrace the mess. Children are messy. Children in the kitchen are messier. If it makes you feel better, cover the table or counter with newspaper or plastic bags. After that, let it go and enjoy the activity.
Keep the projects appropriate for the child's age and skill and the time you have, says Karen Cicero, food and nutrition director at Child magazine. To avoid frustrating children, select projects they can complete with just a bit of direction.
The emphasis is on just a bit.
"If you constantly tell them, 'Use this color,' 'Do it this way,' that's your project," Cicero says. "Praise them and let them be the ones in charge of what it's going to look like."
The Internet is the best bet for instant - and free - inspiration for kitchen crafts. Start with Web sites for magazines such as Family Fun, Child and Better Homes and Gardens.
Or if you already have an idea but need some tips, plenty of sites (such as http://www.make-stuff.com/) offer recipes and advice for making play dough, bubbles, paper crafts and any number of other activities.
Some simple suggestions:
  • Make maracas.
    Fill clean screw-top plastic bottles with different quantities of dry foods (such as beans, rice or peanuts) to create a variety of maracas. Children also can decorate paper labels to tape around the outside of the bottles.
  • Fashion jewelry out of pasta and cereal.
    String cereal O's and different shapes of pasta tubes on yarn or kitchen twine to make necklaces and bracelets. Use markers to color the pasta.
  • Start a band.
    If you can handle the noise, overturn metal or plastic bowls and pans, then give children wooden spoon "drumsticks."
  • Paint with pudding.
    Make several different batches of instant pudding, then let children paint on paper with it using large brushes or their fingers. "And guess what? It's OK if they lick their fingers," says Hopkins.
  • Plant a forest.
    Of sugar cone trees, that is. Hopkins says that overturned ice cream cones can be decorated like trees (or spaceships or towers or...) using candy sprinkles, peanut butter, prepared frosting, or anything else that sticks.
    Play Dough Start to finish: 10 minutes 1/2 cup kosher salt 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon cream of tartar 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 cup water Liquid food coloring In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except the food coloring. Stir until well-mixed, then add food coloring a few drops at a time until desired color is reached. The mixture will start out soupy.
    Set the saucepan over medium heat and stir until the mixture begins to clump, dry and gets difficult to move the spoon through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the dough to a dry work surface.
    When the dough has cooled to the touch, knead until smooth and cool. To store, refrigerate the dough in plastic bags.
    Makes about 2 cups of dough.
    Colored Salt Start to finish: 10 minutes Zip-close plastic bag 3 tablespoons coarse salt (such as kosher) Food coloring White glue Construction paper In the plastic bag, combine the salt and 2 or more drops of food coloring. Seal the bag and shake until the salt is colored. Use the glue to create patterns or designs on the paper, then sprinkle the salt over it. Let the glue and salt set for a few minutes, then tip the paper to remove excess salt. Repeat the process with different colors.
    Bubbles 2/3 cup of Joy dish soad 1 gallon water 2 to 3 tablespoons of glycerin (available at pharmacies) In a large bowl, gently stir together all ingredients. Let sit uncovered overnight.
    To blow bubbles, fashion hoops from pipe cleaners or tubes from toilet paper and paper towels.
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