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by Vanessa Friedman

Related: special parent, creative kitchen, cricket azima, cooking, culinary arts, classes for kids, new york city, special needs,

The Creative Kitchen founder Cricket Azima drew from personal experience to create a cooking class that allows children with special needs to learn and grow.
Cricket Azima and son Kingston cook together
Cricket Azima and son Kingston cook together. Photo by Ghazalle Badiozamani

Cricket Azima believes cooking is an essential skill to teach all children. “My whole perspective...is that kids can learn an endless amount while cooking,” says Azima, a Manhattan mom and founder of The Creative Kitchen, a company that teaches children about food and how to cook in a fun, safe, and educational way. While working on her thesis from 2000-2002 for a master’s degree in food studies and food management at New York University, she discovered a lot of research on how cooking can benefit children with special needs. Azima incorporated that knowledge into her lesson plans when she started  The Creative Kitchen in 2003, but she had no idea how personally relevant her research would become later in her life.

Azima now teaches a cooking class for kids with physical and developmental disabilities called Everybody Can Cook. Her inspiration for the class came from her son Kingston, now 4, who began an aggressive early intervention plan at 18 months for
severe developmental delays, including apraxia. Azima says she noticed that a lot of the language used and skills taught during her son’s therapy sessions were very similar to those she used in her preschool cooking classes.

Soon afterward, she created a comprehensive curriculum for Everybody Can Cook and piloted the program in fall 2010 at her son’s school, Roosevelt Children’s Center. She will offer it again this spring, and students from the Gramercy School will be integrated into the classes. Azima also teaches a family class at the Manhattan Downtown Youth Community Center and is in the process of reaching out to other venues in the hopes of providing more inclusive recreational activities in the future.

“There was really an ‘Aha!’ moment,” Azima says. “I realized that I was able to combine everything I’ve learned in the past 10 years, whether it was professional or personal, to create this class.” She says her classes teach traditional disciplines such as reading, mathematics, science, music, art, history, and geography, as well as fine motor skills, socialization, independence, and self-esteem—all through cooking.

Azima is ever mindful of her audience. She says the most important part of her curriculum is the ability to customize. “Every child’s needs are unique, so we offer lots of options to make sure everyone can participate,” she says. Whether she’s encouraging students to use their pointer fingers to pinch a dash of salt, focus on their muscles while squeezing out honey, or remember which country a certain spice comes from, Azima aims to make her lessons fun, memorable, and educational. “Everybody likes to eat! It’s really easy to adapt and include everyone in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s a common ground.”

Azima is the founder of The Creative Kitchen and the author of Everybody Eats Lunch. For more information on her philosophy and classes, visit thecreativekitchen.com.

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