I’ve been baking with young children as a teacher since 2008. In that time, I learned some easy ways to prepare for a baking activity, that will help reduce the mess, increase the learning opportunities and, of course, ensure the food turns out yummy and relatively germ free!
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE FANCY!!
Baking with children can be intimidating for a lot of people, especially non-bakers. You may find a recipe for pinterest-worthy cut out cookies...then look at your child... and just think “NOPE!” Guess what…Your kid will love baking even the simplest treats! In fact, the rule I like to follow is: “the younger the child, the fewer steps there should be.” For the purposes of this post, I made boxed brownies.
5 MINUTES OF PREP, A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES!!
The key to keeping your young child engaged in any activity is reducing wait time. When baking, the more you can prep beforehand, the better!
How to Prep
THINK about how your child will reach the workspace. When I was a kid, my parents just had me climb up on a chair to help me reach the counter. With my daughter, I use a multi-step stool that I bought off craigslist.
READ THE RECIPE/DIRECTIONS! If you skip this step, you run the risk of losing your child’s attention while you familiarize yourself with the recipe in between steps.
MEASURE everything beforehand. With older children, the act of measuring is a great learning experience (see below “What is Your Child Learning?”) But, with very young children, heart of the activity is found in the acts of pouring and mixing, discussing the different ingredients, and smelling and tasting (if appropriate).
PLACE all pre-measured ingredients and any other tools you’ll need in an easily accessible place on the counter, but keep everything out of reach of the toddler. I like to put things in the order in which we will need them.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BEGINNING...
The Egg Dilemma
Cracking eggs is super fun for kids of all ages. It’s an important skill to have! Cracking an egg works on a child’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and using varying levels of strength and movement in their arm and hand muscles. It can also be messy and wasteful. Depending on the child and my mood, I like to crack the eggs into a bowl beforehand, while I prep for the activity. I know, I know, my kid is missing out on practicing this amazing skill… but sometimes, I just don’t have enough eggs to risk wasting one. This choice is completely up to you. If you choose to have your child crack the eggs herself, just be sure you have a few back up eggs. Oh, and I recommend having her crack the eggs into a separate bowl, not into the bowl containing the other ingredients. Sure, this makes an extra bowl to wash, but it will make finding any rogue shells SO MUCH EASIER!
The Batter/Dough Tasting Dilemma
I’m a cookie dough eater and a batter taster. I’ve been lucky to never get sick from it. BUT - with all of the info out there right now about the dangers of eating raw dough/batter, I am hesitant to teach this habit to my daughter. Luckily, she hasn’t even considered that batters and doughs would be delicious...yet. So, I just focus on talking about how delicious the treat will be after it is fully cooked. Plus, I usually let her taste a chocolate chip or two after we put the brownies in the oven to bake. If you are a dough-eating family and want to allow your child to partake… research the safest way to do this. Perhaps use pasteurized eggs and a heat-treated flour.
MY RULES FOR BAKING
Wash Your Hands My #1 rule! I was so strict about washing hands in my classroom, I actually had a student say, “I don’t like baking time because I don’t want to have to wash my hands so much!” (Don’t worry, he ended up loving it! Haha!) In my class, we wash our hands before baking and keep our hands resting on the clean tabletop while we wait for our turn to help. If a child touches her hair, her face, her mouth, the floor, or anything other than the clean tabletop, they are sent to wash again. Now, at home, it is up to you on how strict you’ll be with hand washing. No matter how strict you are about how many times they wash their hands throughout the activity, always begin a baking or cooking activity with washing hands.
Sneeze and Cough Away from the Counter
This is basic good hygiene, but needs to be repeated over and over for young children. No one wants to eat brownies that have been sneezed into! Before beginning to bake, always, even if your kid doesn’t have a cold, practice turning away from the counter and sneezing or coughing into your elbow. Kids love pretending to cough and sneeze, so practicing this before starting is a fun way to remind them to keep the germs away from the food!
Hold the Bowl with Your Hand While You Stir
Children make the most messes when they stir with a big spoon but don’t steady the bowl with the other hand. You may have to remind your child to “hold the bowl” over and over again, but it is a really great habit to encourage.
Wipe Up Any Messes
Sometimes baking and cooking can get messy. That’s ok! Have your child help clean up any messes they may make!
USING THE 5 SENSES WHILE BAKING
Kids LOVE to notice how the overall color of the batter changes as you add new ingredients! Ask them questions such as, “Do you think that adding the eggs will make the batter look lighter or darker?”
Baking is noisy business! Tap, crack, slop and plop. Use descriptive words to point out the sounds you hear while baking.
Take a moment to allow your child to smell each ingredient. Eggs themselves don’t smell very yummy, but they are an important ingredient that helps make the brownies the perfect taste and texture. When baking other recipes, such as pumpkin pie, it is really fun to allow children to smell each spice before adding! And I always love giving older children a chance to smell vanilla extract and then taste a tiny drop and compare the smell and the taste (it smells great and tastes bad! But still works with other ingredients to make a recipe yummy!)
Some kids will reach a hand right into the bowl and play with the batter. Others will whine if a little drop gets on their hands. Think about your child’s sensory preferences and plan around them. Will your kid want to play with the batter? Give her a little bowl of extra batter to play with! Will a dot of batter upset your child? Have a moist kitchen towel within arms reach before starting!
Duh! This is why we bake...to make something tasty! When baking with a class full of children, I do not allow tasting throughout the baking process, but at home, I always allow my daughter to “try” a few chocolate chips after she’s done making the batter (and I always have her wash her hands again afterward!)
WHAT IS YOUR CHILD LEARNING?
There is oh so much math and science that goes into baking!
Math in Baking
One-to-one correspondence: touching each egg as you count how many there are.
Simple addition, subtraction and word problems: “We need 3 eggs and have already put two in. How many more do we need?”
Simple fractions: 1 cup vs. ½ cup vs. 1 quarter cup
Science in Baking
States of matter: talk about solids, liquids and gasses
Safety skills: “Where should you stand when I open the oven?” “Should I touch this hot pan?”
Fine motor skills
Using new vocabulary words in an authentic way
Following verbal instructions
Following multi-step instructions
Feeling pride in finished product
In conclusion: get out there and BAKE WITH YOUR TODDLER!!! :)