One of the best things about homeschooling is the freedom you have to build lessons into fun, real-life activities. Why not incorporate a mini-chemistry/math lesson into your holiday baking this year? It’s easy to adjust your lessons to suit any age and the results are delicious.
Whether you homeschool or not, teaching your kidsthe basics of cooking and baking is well worth the mess and effort. The sooner you start the better. I’ll confess that I have never particularly enjoyed cooking or baking. That’s why I picked my husband – he’s a trained chef. But, over the years I had to learn to cook and I was determined that my sons would not leave the house knowing only how to heat things in the microwave and how to make ramen noodles. Enter Alton Brown!
We received his books I’m Just Here for the Food and I’m Just Here for More Food. I have never made it through an entire Alton Brown television show – he makes me twitchy. His books, however, are wonderful! These two books comprised a year of middle school science for all of my sons. The chemistry is solid and the experiments are delicious – well, mostly delicious. I learned enough to confidently teach my youngest son the books’ concepts while he was still in grade school.
It was as we worked our way through the “More Food” book that I discovered why I am such a terrible baker (funny since that is my last name) and why I am likely to remain a so-so baker. I am incapable of leaving a recipe as is – it’s an immature thing about me – I hate being told what to do. Baking is all about following the directions and understanding the ingredients. I am happy to report that my sons are all more than competent bakers and you can get your own kids on the road to cooking and baking like a pro by starting with some of the suggestions here in this post.
The key to baking with the very young is being absolutely organized. If you are trying a new recipe, make it once on your own in the evening before attempting it with your kids. Consider how many kids will be baking with you and adjust the recipe accordingly especially if you know someone is going to flip out if he doesn’t get to crack his own egg. Once tested, set your kitchen table up for business. Have ALL of your ingredients and measuring tools out in a logical order. Have your recipe readily available – stick it on the fridge or on the hood of your stove. Consult it often. Turn your chairs around backwards so kids can safely kneel or stand and work at the table.
Attention span is limited with this age group, so keep the science lesson brief and to the point. There is time to cover things in more depth in the coming years. Talk about the role of each ingredient in the recipe.
- Flour, eggs and dairy – all contribute protein to your baked goods. They are the building blocks that give your cookies shape.
- Sugar, milk and syrups are your carbohydrates. They thicken liquids, tenderize dough and provide mass. When water and heat are added to your carbohydrates you create starch. Think of starch as the “cement” of your recipe. Starch holds water and also feeds yeast if you are using it.
- Fats – butter, shortening, oils, and lard. Fats tenderize and weaken the structure of your end product. They do this in a good way – the keep things moist and add flavor.
- Water is in every recipe whether you add it or not. The only thing that does not have even a trace of water is oil. Water allows your baking to heat evenly (think steam) and it is key in helping flour change its protein to gluten (gives elasticity).
- Finally, get your kids to think about air. When you mix your batter, point out the tiny air bubbles. Explain how they grow as they get hot in the oven – puffing up your recipe.
Now it’s time to measure and mix. Part of baking well is measuring accurately. Mr. Brown is adamant about using a scale to measure things rather than measuring cups. With 4-7 year olds, that is an iffy proposition. You know your children and their abilities. When my kids were this age, I let them crack the eggs (have extra eggs and have them crack the eggs over a separate bowl in case of shells). I ignored Alton and let the kids scoop ingredients over a tablespoon. A six or seven year old is capable of pouring oil, milk or water while you hold the measuring utensil. (I recommend doing this over the sink.) While you measure, talk about math concepts like whole, half, double, dozen, etc. Let the kids start the mixing, you finish scraping the sides of the bowl and getting scary lumps out.
By the time this is done, most kids this age lose interest. If so, let them run around while you get the batter ready for the oven. If someone is still interested, put them to work! Turn on the inside oven light so the kids can watch as things bake. Try a quick review of which ingredients are doing what as you watch your batter change shape.
While your creation is cooling, call for a group clean up. Kids can carry stuff from the table to the sink. Older kids can dry dishes. Have them help wipe off the table and put the chairs back in order. By the time you’re all cleaned up, it will be time to taste your experiment!
Here are links to a few recipes that are fairly simple and that are liked by most kids: