How cooking helps with the development of motor skills

First off, what are motor skills and why are they so important?

You know how your body uses muscles to move… Motor skills enable the coordination, control, and mobility of your body’s muscles.

Killian and Aoife ripping lettuce for salad

There are two types of motor skills: fine motor and gross motor

What are Fine Motor Skills?

Fine motor skills is the coordination of small muscles in movement. It is the ability to control the small movements of the hands, fingers, wrists, feet, toes, and tongue.

What are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills is the coordination of large muscles in movement. It is the ability to control the large movements of the torso (belly and back), arms, and legs.

Development of gross motor skills is also related to body awareness, reaction speed, balance and strength.

Why is fine and gross motor skills development important?

I think it’s pretty obvious… The more refined your motor skills are, the more control you have of muscle movements.

There are several ways that cooking techniques and skills directly enhance and improve both fine and gross motor skills.

In this article I would like to go through a variety of different motor skills and explain how each of these cooking skills are related to motor skills development more thoroughly.

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Let’s start with the Fine Motors Skills

Cracking An Egg

When cracking an egg you need to GENTLY tap the egg on a harder surface to crack it. You can’t be too rough or you’ll crush the shell and probably burst the yolk; getting shell shards everywhere.

You then need to try to let the egg slide out without letting the shell fall in too.

This task takes lots of fine motor control and therefore the better you get at cracking eggs; the better your fine motor skills become.

Picturized Recipes suggestions for practicing the skill of cracking an egg:

Spreading With A Utensil

Whether you are using a spatula to spread icing on a cake or using a butter knife to spread peanut butter on toast; you are using fine motor skills

The way you hold the tool you’re spreading with, along with the controlled back and forth motions you make with your arm and wrist takes coordination and steadiness; both of which require fine motor skills.

Picturized Recipes suggestions for practicing the skill of spreading with a utensil:

Sprinkling With Fingers

When I think of sprinkling with fingers I always think of adding the toppings to a pizza; especially the cheese on top

The ability to gently hold the ingredients in your finger tips and release them little by little while wiggling your fingers and moving your arm around to make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly takes a lot of fine motor control

You need to be sure that you are not squeezing the ingredients too tight or dropping them all in one spot in order to sprinkle effectively thus making pizzas and other sprinkling cooking activities are a great (and delicious) way to practice these skills

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of sprinkling with fingers:

Pinching

Having the dexterity and coordination to take your finger and thumb and press them together is a skill that takes a lot of practice for a toddler.

Making wontons or perogies are great examples of cooking techniques that require pinching that would help refine those finger muscle movements and control

When making these foods it is important that you apply just the right amount of pressure to seal them but not crush them or leave holes.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of pinching

  • I guess we don’t have one for this task 😧 … I’ll try my best to make one soon

Scooping With Utensils

Using measuring spoons, cups and other cooking tools to scoop a level or heaping scoop is another way cooking encourages fine motor skills

The ability to scoop up an ingredient and balance it while moving said scoop to where it needs to go without spilling takes a great deal of balance, concentration and motor control.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of scooping with utensils:

Rolling Dough Into A Ball

Having the coordination to take a bit of dough into the palm of your hand; and then move your hands in opposing circular motions to make a ball; takes a lot of concentration and practice.

The fine motor skills needed to not only perform the correct circular movement; but also apply a tiny bit of pressure to the dough affects whether the dough becomes circular or not; is a tricky yet very important fine motor skill .

So the more cookies or meatballs you make the better these skills develop.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of rolling dough into a ball

Flipping With A Spatula

First, gently sliding the spatula under what you’re about to flip takes a bit of finesse. You can’t be too forceful or whatever you are flipping could crumble or tear.

The wrist flipping motion combined with balancing what you are flipping without accidentally letting it slip off takes lots of control too.

Then there is also the aspect of aiming to flip the food so that it lands in the right spot that takes lots of fine motor coordination too.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of flipping with spatula

Peeling With A Peeler

You need both hands for this task… One hand has a fairly tight grasp on the vegetable, keeping it still and steady.

The other hand holds the peeler and makes a back and forth/ circular motion.

Putting enough force on the peeler for it to actually work as you glide the peeler over the vegetable and away from the body but not too much force that it gets stuck or you drop the ingredient…

Everything involved in peeling with a peeler requires fine motor skills and coordination

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of peeling

  • I guess we don’t have one for this task 😧 … I’ll try my best to make one soon
me and Killian peeling potatoes hand over hand

Squeezing

Squeezing something in your fist takes more skill than you think…

The force it takes is what really counts here. Using all your muscles in your palm, fingers and arm to first grasp the ingredient and clench, squeezing as hard as you can takes a lot of muscles.

All of the muscles in your palm and fingers are used while squeezing which makes it a great cooking skill for developing those hand and finger muscles.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of squeezing

  • I guess we don’t have one for this task 😧 … I’ll try my best to make one soon

Cookie Cutting

Spacial awareness comes into play a bit here as well. Being able to recognize where there is enough empty space to press the cookie cutter down without touching another already cut cookie shape.

Then there is also gently placing the cookie cutter down onto the right space and pressing down hard enough to cut the dough but not too hard as to scratch the surface under it.

You also need to use your finger tips to gently wiggle enough space for the cookie dough to come out easily and carefully pull the cutter away from the dough without tearing it.

All of these actions require a bit of finesse and in order to execute them effectively and they all use fine motor control of course.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of cookie cutting

Chopping

Holding a knife properly and safely is the first part of how chopping uses fine motor skills.

Then the way that you move the knife in order to chop ingredients also requires lots small specific movements and very good coordination and control.

The gliding up and down movement of the knife changes depending on the ingredient that is being chopped too and therefore chopping different ingredients require different fine motor skills.

For example the way that you would chop an onion is very different than the way that you would chop a pineapple. But both enhance fine motor skills development.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of chopping

Pitting Fruit

This is another example of differing fine motor skills development. The way that you would pit a cherry is quite different than the way you would pit an avocado.

Dexterity and finger muscle control are the main aspects needed for pitting fruit which are of course both components of fine motor skills.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of pitting fruit

  • I guess we don’t have one for this task 😧 … I’ll try my best to make one soon

Executing any of the cooking tasks above are most definitely going to help refine and develop fine motor skills.

They are just a few of countless ways that cooking and motor skills development go hand in hand!

Now lets look at each of the gross motor skills:

Stirring

Stirring is a whole arm and shoulder and wrist workout. The way you hold the utensil you are stirring with combined with the broad circular motions you make around the bowl or container the ingredients are in; all use gross motor muscles.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of stirring

Scrubbing/Washing

Scrubbing and washing requires both arms and hands. One to hold whatever you are washing nice and steady; and the other to then moves in a circular or back and forth scrubbing or washing motion.

Usually lots of elbow bending and shoulder rotating happens while the hand scrubbing or washing is in action.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of scrubbing/washing

Pouring

Pouring takes arm muscle coordination and balance to ensure that nothing gets spilled. The ingredients being poured might be heavy too and thus require lots of arm muscles in order to hold it up and pour it where it needs to go.

The shoulder motor skills are also used here as whatever is being poured needs to be carried to its destination.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of pouring:

Lifting Heavy Ingredients/Tools

Depending on the wight of what you are lifting it is possible that all of the gross motor skills in your body might be needed.

For example if you are lifting a huge bag of flour or sugar then your legs, core, shoulders, arms… are all used when lifting it so that there is injuries do not occur from improper lifting.

Lifting a heavy mixmaster onto the counter; or giant cake out of the oven are other examples where your core, arms and shoulders are definitely used.

Lifting things is definitely a prime example of an action that requires gross motor skills, and there is plenty of lifting things while cooking.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of lifting heavy ingredients/tools

Patting

Patting doesn’t seem like the most complicated action; but it is definitely a cooking skill that uses gross motor movements.

Using your shoulder, arm and open palm in an up and down movement is only the first part. The application of pressure is key. When patting while cooking the right amount of pressure is key and this requires coordination and control to execute effectively.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of patting

Kneading

Kneading includes several motions; the use of shoulders, arms, and hands to turn, fold and press down the dough are all helping refine those gross motor skills.

Not to mention the coordination of doing all of these movements and the process of applying the perfect amount of pressure play a huge roll too.

I know that when I knead bread or pie crust or anything; my entire body rocks in a back and forth motion.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of kneading

  • I guess we don’t have one for this task 😧 … I’ll try my best to make one soon

Using A Rolling Pin

Rolling pins are held with both hands; but your core, shoulders and arms are also involved while using a rolling pin.

The back and forth, circular motion of rolling dough combined with making sure you have the right amount of added pressure all need gross motor muscles. Too much pressure or improper movement will not give you the results you want when using a rolling pin.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of rolling with a rolling pin

Mixing

Mixing is a bit like stirring. It uses all of the same gross motor skills but generally a different set of movements. When mixing things together; you tend to use a folding motion as well as stirring in a circle. Your wrist flips and folds the ingredients while stirring.

If you are using an electric hand mixer then the weight of that combined with making the circular motion to mix up ingredients also help develop gross motor skills

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of stirring

Egg Beating

Using a whisk to beat eggs needs quick arm, and wrist movement. All of such actions are helping develop and improve gross muscle control.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of egg beating

Shaking

The motor skills your hands use to grasp the object you’re shaking; along with the back and forth movements made by your arms and shoulders; are all using coordination. Your core muscles are also involved by keeping the rest of your body still.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of shaking

Mashing

Mashing is another cooking skill that demonstrates lots of gross motor development. You use your core, arms, hands and even sometimes legs to really get those ingredients mashed up.

The strong amount of pressure you use with the masher to mash the ingredients comes from a combination of strength used by your torso, arm and hand. If it’s a hard ingredient to mash, I often find myself bending my knees and putting all of my weight into mashing; creating a rocking motion.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of mashing

Stretching

Both arms, shoulders, hands and fingers are used in a pulling outward motion when you are stretching whatever it is you are cooking. Using your core to hold the rest of your body still, stretching takes lots of coordination and big movements. These big movements are all reinforcing gross motor development.

Picturized Recipe suggestions for practicing the skill of stretching

  • I guess we don’t have one for this task 😧 … I’ll try my best to make one soon

If you’re ready to get learning and practicing these important motor skills with your little here are 2 free recipes for you to try 🙂

apple cinnamon recipe
lasagne mockup

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