You may be someone who loves baking with your children, but perhaps the whole notion terrifies you. As someone who isn’t a proficient baker but who loves rolling up my sleeves and getting messy, I wanted to share this post because I’ve experienced so many benefits of pushing past all of the fears to give my child the experience that getting creative in our kitchens can provide.
“Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.” – Guy Fieri
I’m going to tell you a story about cupcakes, but our journey in the kitchen did not start with cupcakes. As soon as she should safely stand on a kitchen helper/step stool (about 18 months old), E started with simple tasks like helping wash the dishes – we were capitalizing on our daughter’s desire to help and be a part of everything, folks! From there, I found easy recipes for popsicles, and things that we could chop in the food processor. By age 3, she was ready for the Big League…
Recently, E’s Auntie M – passionate foodie and cupcake baker (and blogger extraordinaire) Meredith Molinari – came over for a morning of baking. This was a much anticipated event, after baking at nursery school and then the discovery instructional baking videos on her Kindle. Her vision of the possibilities was on fire, and her Auntie M did not disappoint!
Here are some tips & benefits of baking (and cooking) that I’ve learned from that day, and along the way:
1. Keep it simple.
This is important! Choose a recipe to match the attention span working with and the skill level that you’re helping to develop. Or prepare some of the ingredients in advance so you can get straight to the fun.
For example, when Auntie M came over to make cupcakes, I suggested she use a boxed cake mix to make things easier. I honestly thought she was going to faint at the very thought! She absolutely refused to compromise quality or dumb down the situation in any way. Being an aficionado, she brought premixed dry ingredients of an actual cupcake recipe, so she and E could focus on the pouring and mixing with wet ingredients, and make the frosting, of course.
The Lesson: For every challenge, there is a solution, which does not require us to sacrifice to make a child-led activity work. *BOOM*
2. Don’t fuss about a mess.
Prepare your area so there’s plenty of space, and have supplies for cleaning up the messes that will surely occur.
In our house, my motto is “If you got messy, it means you had fun!”
During cupcake baking, E accidentally dropped a measuring cup into the moving mixer, causing cocoa powder to dust both bakers’ faces and hair! Later, there was a batter splatter incident. No biggie. It’s part of the journey, and part of the fun – and you can almost always eat some of that mess.. just wash your hands afterwards, because we’re fun, not gross.
3. While you’re baking and cooking with your kids, you’re developing math, science, fine motor and vocabulary skills.. How cool is that?!?
As we measure a 1/4 cup or 1/2 a teaspoon, slice, pour, add a pat, blend, whisk and displace, young children absorb new, valuable information.
Children are learning about numbers beyond simple counting while they’re in the kitchen. Measuring uses critical thinking skills in a fun way, with an intended result. They’re using their hands in ways that everyday play does not necessarily require, but that they’ll need for things like grasping a pencil once they start writing. They’re learning that dough is made when the dry ingredients are mixed with the wet ones. They’re measuring and using fine motor skills together when they thoughtfully attempt to spoon batter into a cupcake tin. E has also learned which colors to mix to make another color. This is science AND art!
4. Self-Esteem is increased when we:
Guy Fieri’s quote is right on; when we allow children to participate in baking, they get to make choices about flavor, color and design. We make space to transfer the power that is so often in the hands of the adults running the show, in a way that opens their mind for creativity to flow. They’re not just helpers anymore; they’re chefs!
When we hand the power to a toddler, who always feels the need to prove they can “do it by myself”, we show them that we trust them to be independent.
When they don’t have to prove themselves, children have space to establish their own sense of accomplishment, while knowing we are there to guide or offer support when they need it, which increases self-esteem.
As we gently guide them, they make decisions and end up with a finished product. No matter how that product turns out, it is an accomplishment!
When Meredith and E made cupcakes that day, they discussed many things. They talked of ingredients, tools, measurements, flavor, color and frosting. They mixed and poured and spooned and tasted. They worked together to make important decisions. In the end, they accomplished something together something through collaboration. Auntie M showed E that she was important enough to make time for, and they did an activity that brings them both joy.
They were in, and enjoying, the moment.
Taking the time to take risks, get messy, communicate with and trust our children gives them autonomy. The result is that we get the chance to join them on an adventure like baking. What a delicious opportunity!
Leave me a comment about your experience baking with toddlers. Or tell me why you haven’t done it. Let’s keep the conversation going!