Whether your kids are back in the classroom for now or you’re all hunkered down at home, you’ll likely be spending a little more time together this winter – and what’s a more quintessential winter activity than baking cookies as a family?
This year, take your baking game to the next level – and keep the kids entertained on a budget – by introducing them to the different skills involved in baking. Especially when done with an eye to developmentally appropriate skill building, baking can be an educational activity, even as it also creates memories that will last a lifetime!
One of the most obvious skills that baking teaches is math, since reading a recipe involves a lot of fractions, and it’s even more challenging if you’re dividing or multiplying the whole recipe to make a different number of servings. As you bake, encourage older children to read the fractions and identify the right measuring tools. Fractions can be a challenging concept on the page, but they make a lot more sense in practice.
With younger children who aren’t ready for fractions, you can focus on simpler comparisons such as greater than and less than. Talk about which ingredients you use more or less of, count things like the number of eggs used, and look at the tools you need to measure to talk about having the right tool for the job. Just like you wouldn’t use a foot-long ruler to measure the distance between two cities, you wouldn’t use the big measuring cup to a teaspoon of vanilla.
Academic skills like math are important, but children also require engagement that supports their social and emotional development. How can baking help you do that? The secret is simple: by baking together, and making it a fun, supportive, and positive experience, you build positive memories with your child that will influence how they think about family and relationships, can build self-confidence, and more.
Part of making memories and helping children develop confidence through mastery is offering them safe ways to make decisions and control a situation. You can do this while baking by encouraging your child to pick out special recipes to make together and allowing them to choose frosting and sprinkle colors. When children have the opportunity to lead a process, and are encouraged to do so by the adults in their lives, this teaches them that they are valued and trusted in this space.
Anyone who has worked with young children in recent years knows that increased technology use has resulted in a challenging problem: a significant decline in both fine and gross motor skill development. Children struggle with tasks like using crayons and scissors, as well as big picture motor planning tasks – but baking can help with both. Occupational therapists have found baking helps with spatial perception and motor planning, builds hand strength, and helps young children develop better hand-eye coordination.
Historically, children developed these skills by coloring, playing outside, and practicing other daily living skills around the house, including cooking and cleaning. As an emphasis on early academics and increased technology use have changed early childhood activities, finding fun ways to intentionally build these motor skills has become increasingly important.
You don’t have to think of baking as an educational activity for it to be beneficial and fun. Families have baked together for generations without focusing on either of these elements – it was all about providing food for everyone to enjoy together. With the easy availability of store-bought goods, though, baking today is invested with greater significance. Caregivers should pay attention to its emotional importance, and bring other educational elements into play as appropriate for the greatest developmental benefits.