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Building your child's confidence in and out of the kitchen

Franziska Naughton and Sharon Sacks from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired share guidance for helping a child with vision impairment to become independent in the kitchen.

The kitchen can be a natural gathering place during meal preparation. It can be a place to come to talk, share and be together, and in many ways is the heart of the home. Except for a child with vision impairment (VI).

From early childhood through school years, a child with VI spends more time in the privacy of their room than their sighted peers. The kitchen is considered dangerous, and so they may be discouraged from spending time there.

"However, a child who is deprived of experience doesn’t continue to seek new experiences. Curiosity decreases and the motivation for learning diminishes."

The opposite occurs when children are encouraged in new experiences, especially in a secure and happy home. Personal feelings of purpose are enhanced with the responsibility of being a contributing family member. The skills of cooking, like other competencies, can boost a child's confidence and prepare them for later in life.

In the curriculum below, we have attempted to pull together suggestions to help encourage your child both inside and out of the home, starting in the kitchen.

Guidelines for developing independent kitchen skills in a child with vision impairment

An infant from birth to three months old

  • Omit or reduce background stimulation - meaningless stimulation, such TV or radio reduces early auditory discrimination (the ability to distinguish between distinct and separate sounds).
  • Touch and talk to the child - these are the basis of relationships and are crucial for the establishment of trust. A secure environment and close human relationships helps to create a foundation for learning.
  • Keep the infant in most frequently used room – when they aren’t sleeping, of course.
  • Gradually make bath time an extended playtime – enjoying the water, towelling and powdering.
  • Introduce stimulating objects – such as soft furry balls, rattles, and squeezable toys.

A baby from three to six months old

  • Keep the baby in kitchen during meal preparation – place a high chair at the table. Talk and touch them during mealtime.
  • Expose the baby to the outside environment – such as riding in the pram or car, and taking them outside in all kinds of weather.
  • Gradually end restriction on background noise – whichever medium parents prefer, such as TV or radio, can accompany the baby's waking hours (with moderation). However, don’t use TV as a baby sitter or turn on the radio for company. The sounds of natural family activities are healthy.
  • Introduce varied objects both in the crib and play pen – so that baby is rewarded for exploring.
  • Touch the baby’s fingers with objects and move them away – encouraging their exploration of space and reach.

A baby from six to 12 months old

  • Tell the baby where they are going, what for and why – when you’re visiting stores, restaurants or going on trips. 
  • Always listen for identifiable sounds – talk to them about sounds such as birds, cars and airplanes.
  • Expose the baby to new textures – such as grass, mud and rugs.
  • Introduce foods regularly at family mealtimes and during preparation – alternate different textures, such as biscuits, apple or bread (whatever is being prepared).
  • Place objects such as a spoon, cup and plastic plate on the high-chair tray - for the baby to explore with touch.
  • Speak to the child about everything around them – keep it simple and be sure to clearly associate what’s being said with the appropriate action or object.
  • Start swimming classes – with one of the parents.

A baby from 12 to 18 months old

  • Introduce warm, hot and cold – for example, changing the temperature of running water or comparing ice to a hot face cloth.
  • When the child is crawling, allow them to explore the kitchen – remove unsafe items from lower shelves and if possible "give" one to them that they can organise and play with (for example with pots, pans and plastic dishes). Introduce appliances – such as the refrigerator. For example: "This is the refrigerator. It's a big box with a door. Inside, food is kept cold." Open the door and let the child feel cold things. Lift them up to feel top. It’s important not to take any information for granted. Make sure child experiences size and function.
  • Prepare for good eating habits – encourage initial attempts to use a spoon regardless of mess.

A toddler from 18 to 24 months old

  • Differentiate smells – such as onions, baking and oranges.
  • During this period child should have begun to chew solid foods – if there is difficulty, present a favourite food item and show them how to chew it. 
  • Let the child use movable parts – such as opening and closing cupboards and drawers. Movable parts are interesting at this age and the sooner they learn to manoeuvre, the better.

A toddler from two to three years old

  • Continue to allow the child to experience the function of movable parts – such as spraying plants, squirting detergent and scooping ice cream.
  • Begin delegating household chores – such as carrying napkins to the table.
  • Increase exposure to different textures and tastes – get the child to participate in one or more steps of cooking/baking.

A toddler from three to four years old

  • Continue to delegate household chores – such as teaching the child to fold napkins, returning dirty dishes to the kitchen and scraping food waste into the bin.
  • Get the child to assist with cooking/baking – such as shredding lettuce or stirring batter (and check the progress of mixing with their fingers). They should also be gaining independence in washing their hands.
  • Use cooking/baking activities to become aware of time – such as baking biscuits, cooling pudding or freezing ice cubes. Use a kitchen timer to alert the child to a time period (you can adapt a standard timer, for example by raising dots or enlarging signs).

A child from four to five years old:

  • Continue to build on household chores – such as learning how to correctly set a table, using left and right orientation skills.
  • Set standards of appropriate table behaviour – this is important for later socialisation away from home. For example use "please" and "thank you", pass food around the table, teach them just to take one roll rather than feeling them all, and wait for the child to ask for help rather than anticipating every need.
  • Introduce the fork – identify and maintain appropriate use (don’t let the child revert to fingers). A stabbing motion is used until child is comfortable. After that, encourage the child to use a slower, smoother movement. 

A child from five to six years old

  • Increase independence in completing previous tasks – such as filling glasses with assistance and spreading butter.
  • Have the child serve their own food at the table – practice putting the appropriate amount on the serving spoon. 
  • Discuss the different textures of foods through changing conditions – such as biscuits changing from soft to hard through baking. 
  • Begin simple cutting tasks – for example, bananas.
  • Have the child help clean – when liquids are spilled, have the child clean it with a sponge or paper towel. Keep this job pleasant. Don't strive for perfection!

A child from six to seven years old

  • Start squeezing fruit – such as oranges.
  • Start using a knife at the table and introduce soup – continue introduction of varied shapes and textures of food.
  • Teach table wiping techniques – start with crumbs scattered on a small amount of surface, then introduce a sponge or cloth and gradually expand the task to include the whole table. Alert the child to small bits they have missed. Finding missed bits helps them to develop search and find techniques.

A child from seven to nine years old

  • Expand on household chores – such as drying and putting away dishes, using a can opener and preparing drink from squash. 
  • Practice particular skills of eating unusual food – such as hot dogs, ice lollies and spaghetti.
  • Increase food preparation and baking practice – such as measuring required amounts (use only dry ingredients in the beginning) and cracking eggs in a bowl.
  • Encourage good posture while eating – establish clues to an appropriate distance from the food.

Establishing skills for independence

After this, the child's world moves outward from the home into the school and community. They begin measuring their skills and accomplishments in comparison to their peers. During these years, it’s vital a child with VI acquires comparable competencies.

A child from nine to 10 years old

  • Start cooking with heat – learning to use heat is an essential skill. Everyone, sighted or not, is burned at some point (it's part of the learning process). Firstly, have the child establish a feel for all of the burners/elements. Practice placing various size pans on them while cold. Identify which knobs turn on what. Place the child's hand close enough to feel the warmth (but obviously not close enough to burn). Keep pot handles at easily accessible locations and explain that they can get hot sometimes too. With oven cooking, use tactile stickers to adapt the temperature knob. Practice putting various sized pots and trays in the oven when cold. It’s particularly important to experience the heat felt on opening the oven door. 
  • Build on previous table etiquette – continue cutting skills at table with more difficult textures. Make sure the child is routinely using their napkin independently and teach them to put it on their lap.

A child from 10 to 11 years old

  • Sweep the floors – using the same techniques as table wiping, implement a methodical approach, pushing into one pile first.
  • Peel fruit – by this time, the child should be peeling their own bananas and oranges and independently disposing of the peel. Introduce dicing of apples and pears. 
  • Transfer liquids – practice draining excess hot water from cooked pasta through a colander and ladling soups.
  • Provide increased opportunities to measure – including liquid ingredients.
  • Introduce cutting meat away from bone – begin with removing only main portion of meat and let the child finish by eating off the bone. Gradually raise standards.

A child from 11 to 12 years old

  • Label canned goods and storage boxes in braille or large print – so the child can easily find things for themselves (RNIB sells an audio labeller).
  • Practice cooking meat – teach about the difference in texture and the importance of cooking things properly for health and safety reasons.
  • Inform the child about gristle and fat in meat – instruct how to use the fork to identify and practice trimming if the child doesn’t like it.
  • Begin peeling potatoes and carrots – do this once fruit skills are established.

Young people aged 12 and older

  • Introduce electrical appliances – such as a blender.
  • Create an accessible cook book – containing standard package directions (such as for cooking rice) and recipes, which can be accumulated as the child gains experience.
  • When food is presented without identification, encourage the young person to politely ask someone else to explain location of food on plate – the blind child needs this experience with family so he’s comfortable ordering and eating in public places.
  • Start grocery shopping – get the young person to familiarise themselves with the organisation of their local store, then teach more specific shopping skills and gradually assign more responsibility during trips. 
  • Organise for independence – organise the refrigerator, freezer and cabinets so food can be found easily. Independence and initiative will grow, if it’s easy to locate what you want when preparing a snack or a dish.

Source: This article originally appeared on the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired website and was republished with permission of the owner. This page has since been removed.