Little hands and minds are suited to so many things. The main trait to gain is in fact parental patience! It really is all about how you, as the parent, approach children helping. The more they are given space to work with raw ingredients and real tools, the more proficient they will become.
There are a few things it can be useful to remember when helping your little tykes help in the kitchen.
1. Depending on the height of the children, provide a stool so they can be at your height. This may be my children's favourite aspect of dinner prep. ("Let me get my stool, Mummy!") It makes them feel like a grown-up - which, let's be honest, is all they really want in this world.
2. Initially, choose tasks they can manage without getting too frustrated. This is a pretty easy one. Tearing salad greens, pulling stems off mushrooms (a favourite of our 3-year-old), and stirring pots on the stove (with help and/or a watchful eye, of course) are all great choices. Getting their hands in dough (bread, pizza, fresh pasta, biscuit, pie pastry) is also really exciting.
3. Conversely, don't be afraid to trust them with more challenging tasks. A good example is pouring pancake or crepe batter into a hot pan. With your hand nearby, this is absolutely an achievable task for a 3- or 4-year-old.
4. Safety. Clearly important. But what's really significant is having you, the parent or caregiver, nearby to jump in and help when it gets too tricky. No sane parent would give a 4-year-old a large chef's knife. But I am sane, FYI, and our 4-year-old uses a small, serrated paring knife with a rounded tip. I've shown him how to hold it, and how to hold his other hand. He has a cutting board with rubber edges, so it doesn't slip. And I stand beside him. Start knife skills with vegetables and fruit that are easy to cut, like bananas, cucumbers, and zucchini.
5. Let mess happen. Now this one doesn't sell itself. When young kids help out in the kitchen, it will get messy. There aren't any ways around it. Fill your dishpit - I mean, sink - with hot soapy water and throw dirty bowls and pots in there as you go.
6. Keep your cool. Yes, you, the parent or caregiver. Your attitude means the world to a child's experience and confidence working with ingredients. For your first foray into bringing your preschooler into the kitchen, make sure you have had enough coffee and food to give you skills of patience. For at least 15 minutes. (Then Mummy needs to roll this dough just a LITTLE faster, darling!)