I was looking for something thematically fall or Halloween, but not pumpkin (even though we have cans of pumpkin purée). Scarecrows…straw…haystacks! I had a vision of the cookie but had no real idea of what was in them, so called up Belle’s godmother. Just three ingredients: chow mein noodles, butterscotch chips, and peanut butter. And no oven. Perfect for a short half hour block.

Obviously, haystacks are going to primarily target fine motor skills, with all the stirring. But first, we took the time for some ingredient exploration.

Ingredient exploration chow mein noodles

Belle and I searched for some adjectives to describe the chow mein noodles. I asked “what do the noodles look like?” and paused for an answer. If she didn’t answer right away, I offered some prompts using opposites (“are they hard or soft?”) or mixed accurate and inaccurate options with yes/no answers (“are they crunchy?are they sticky?”). As usual, when Belle echoed “crunchy,” I would reply with a second model of the sound: “yes, crunchy.

Her take on chow mein noodles: Look: brown, like spaghetti. Feel: dry, hard. Taste: crunchy, not salty, not sweet. Overall, a yummy snack.

The butterscotch chips she described as tasting like chocolate, so we pulled out the chocolate chips to compare. Maybe they just looked alike…or maybe she picked up on the sugar? We’ll check again soon.

If she could reliably count past 5, she would happily count how many chips fit in a cup.

Normally we pour or scoop chocolate chips, but we switched it up with the butterscotch chips. I expected Belle to pick up handfuls, but instead she started counting the chips out: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6…so I went with the flow and counted with her. We pointed and touched each butterscotch chip as we counted to help with 1:1 correspondence.

Sensory butterscotch

When it was taking too long (only such a thing when Belle’s brother Buddy is crying), we transitioned to a three-beat “grab and wheeeeeee” process of picking up the chips, moving our hands to the cup, and letting the chips slide down our hands. Since we use “wheeeeee” as a fun vocalization on a playground slide for Belle, I could draw a parallel with the butterscotch chips simple by saying “Now let the chips go down the slidewhee!”

Holding the cup steady while scraping is tricky!

The peanut butter also was slightly different from our normal bake, since it did not come out of the measuring cup on its own. Scrape was introduced as a new kitchen concept.

Stirring coordination

The thick and not quite melted batter (for lack of a better term) was heavy as Belle stirred, and we usually use a stand mixer. Today, we had to focus on coordination: holding the bowl still with one hand while digging with the spatula with the other hand.

I modeled how to hold the bowl alone, by wrapping my hand over Belle’s, and by using language like “your thumb touches the inside of the bowl and your fingers the outside of the bowl, then squeeze.”

Stirring coordination
Haven’t mastered holding the bowl yet in one hand while also doing another task.

After all our stirring, I paused operations to talk about how to pull the cookies out. This could be done with a fork or two, but I wanted Belle to get the sensory experience of sticky fingers. So we discussed “crab fingers” aka a two-finger pincer grasp that she should use to pinch out a cookie from the mixture. She watches a Baby Shark video that sings about a “walking crab” so is familiar with the small claw/large claw concept.

Haystack formation
Belle opted to pinch out single hay stalks instead of hay stacks. Whatever floats your boat, child!

Skills targeted:

  • Fine motor (mixing, stirring, pincer grasp)
  • Expressive language (vocabulary)
  • Gross motor (coordination)
  • Counting
  • 1:1 correspondence (during counting)
  • Cognitive (comparison)
  • Food prep!

Equipment needed:

  • Mixing bowl
  • Microwave
  • Spatula or spoon
  • Measuring cups
  • Wax paper
  • Cookie sheet

Recipe (30 min prep, 1 hr set, yield: 24 cookies):

  • 1 5-oz can of chow mein noodles (about 2.5 cups)
  • 1 c butterscotch chips
  • 1/2 c peanut butter
  1. Measure 1 c butterscotch chips and 1/2 c peanut butter into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15-30 second increments, stirring between, until chips melt (about 1 min total).
  2. Stir in 1 can of chow mein noodles (5 oz or about 2.5 c).
  3. Pinch haystacks (1″ diameter) out onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
  4. Let cool til hardened (at least one hour at room temperature or about 20 min in refrigerator). Store in refrigerator or freezer.

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