Baking with Kids
Remember your first experiences in the kitchen? Maybe you helped your mother measure sugar for a cake, or stirred that big wooden spoon until your little arm ached. (Maybe you just licked the beaters!) The warmth, the aromas, and the teamwork all fused into lasting, loving memories.
Now you can re-create those happy moments with your own children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews. Baking with children is a wonderful way to teach, share, and connect. And when you’re finished, you can have dessert!
Besides creating delicious treats, baking gives kids the opportunity to:
- Learn real-world math. Measuring teaches fractions. Cutting brownies or a cake into servings demonstrates division. And waiting for the oven buzzer helps kids understand units of time.
- Develop patience and precision. If you mismeasure or skip a step, your baking project will disappoint.
- Improve reading comprehension and vocabulary. Recipes are good practice for other kinds of instructional reading.
- Cultivate scientific curiosity. What makes a cake rise? What happens when you heat chocolate? Kids love baking “magic” and the explanations behind it.
- Organize and follow through. From shopping for ingredients through cleaning up, baking projects show kids the value of doing a job properly and thoroughly.
How to Get Started
- A set of plastic or metal measuring cups for dry ingredients
- One or more glass measuring cups for liquid ingredients
- A set of measuring spoons
- Rubber or plastic spatula
- Several wooden spoons
- Rotary beater (the classic “eggbeater”)
- At least three sturdy glass or metal mixing bowls
- Cookie sheet(s)
- Round or square cake pan
- Oven mitt and hot pad
Baking success starts with appropriate expectations. Give kids jobs suited to their abilities, and praise them generously when they complete a task. Make sure each baking experience is a positive one, even if the results aren’t quite what you expected!
Children as young as two or three can participate in simple baking activities such as pouring, stirring, and decorating. By five or six, kids enjoy measuring, making cookie-cutter shapes, and using a rotary beater. At nine or ten, most children have the coordination to operate electric equipment such as blenders and microwave ovens and the reading skills to understand recipes.
For your first project, choose a recipe that uses familiar ingredients—sugar, eggs, flour, butter, chocolate chips—and basic techniques such as blending, stirring, and spooning. Many cookie batters can be “squished” with the fingers (much easier for kids than stirring with a wooden spoon). Brownies can be mixed, baked, and eaten out of the same pan to minimize cleanup.
It’s natural to worry about safety in the kitchen. But with a little instruction, kids can learn to respect safety guidelines without feeling anxious or fearful.
Sharp edges and hot temperatures are a parent’s top concerns. Don’t let young children use sharp knives, and don’t let them use the burners or oven until they’ve had plenty of experience around the kitchen.
As you work with the range or oven, explain to your child what you’re doing and why. Show how to check that burners and oven are on or off. Always make sure that pan handles are turned away from the edge of the stove, so they can’t get bumped into by accident.
Other important precautions:
- Knives. Even older children (ages 8 – 10) should be supervised when they use knives. Make sure knives are properly sharpened; a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. Emphasize that knives are not toys. For most baked goods, a serrated plastic knife works just fine and is much easier and safer for kids to handle than a metal knife.
- Burns. There’s no getting around the fact that baking requires heat, and heat can cause burns. Set a good example for young children by always using oven mitts or potholders when opening oven doors, using the range, and handling baking pans or cookie sheets. As they mature, allow them to do these chores while supervised.
- Falls. Kitchen falls can be prevented if we remind ourselves that children are shorter than grown-ups. If kids can’t comfortably reach the countertop or kitchen table, have a sturdy stool or booster seat available.
- Basic hygiene is one of the most important precautions you can follow. Wash hands with plenty of soap and water before starting and after finishing your baking project. Make sure hands are thoroughly dried when handling utensils, so you can maintain a good grip.
A Word About Mess
It’s inevitable with beginners. Here’s how to keep it to a minimum:
- Spread newspapers over tables or countertops to minimize sticky messes.
- Wear an apron. Small children can wear one of your old T-shirts over clothing.
- Teach kids to clean as they go (and set a good example yourself).
- Keep your temper…and your sense of humor.