There are lots of ways in which we can learn alongside our children that don’t require a teaching degree or lots of textbooks. Everything in life is a lesson! One great activity that includes getting messy and coming up with something exciting to enjoy at the end is baking. Not only do you get to feast on the spoils of your endeavour afterwards, but baking pretty much covers the whole national curriculum! The key is to be open to the natural flow of learning as it happens, without being determined to ‘teach’ a particular subject or idea. These are ideas to begin pursuing further learning when your children shows an interest or leaning towards wanting to know more. Children are sponges when it comes to acquiring knowledge and will no doubt expand your understanding of something if you let them direct their own learning. Check out all these things you learn as you bake:
Maths: From weighing and measuring ingredients to measuring cake tins, there’s plenty of maths activity involved in baking. Keen mathematicians might want to work out the percentages of one ingredient to another or find out more about weight e.g. how many grams there are in a kilogram etc.
English: Reading a recipe offers the chance to discover new words and spellings and following the instructions encourages a child to read to discover what happens next. Your child might like to copy out a recipe that they find online to make it easier to follow, or you could write out an ingredients list to take to the shops together. Or why not make a special occasion and ask your child to design menus for the family with information about what you’ve cooked together.
Science: Baking is essentially a science experiment! How do ingredients change when they are mixed together? How do different things react with one another: water and flour; egg and sugar etc. Why does cream go fluffy when it’s whisked? How does heat change the cake mixture into a cake? Children naturally ask questions when faced with exciting things happening in the bowl in front of them, and together you can set out on an adventure to find the answers!
Art and design: From designing a cake to decorating it, the opportunities for kids to get creative are endless. You could try different vegetable dyes for marbling effects, cutters to make shapes, or icing sugar sculptures! Or you might like to make modelling clay figurines to adorn your cake – why not create family member models you can get out on special celebration days? Other opportunities for arty activities come in the form of creating unique menus for the recipients of your baked delights.
Geography: We are lucky enough to live in a multi-cultural country whose cuisine has been hugely influenced by incoming traditions and recipes. You might like to find out more about a particular country through the food they eat and try baking Polish bread or Indian chapattis, for instance. Sourcing the ingredients for your culinary adventure can also throw up interesting discoveries: simply perusing the world foods aisle in the supermarket or, better yet, finding a shop that specialises in world food ingredients.
Ecology: Each of the ingredients that go into the final baked product has a story: where did those eggs come from? Who grew the wheat to make flour? And then how was that flour milled, packaged and transported? Following the story behind each ingredient opens a child’s eyes to how our food reaches us, and also offers an opportunity to talk about the importance of local and organic food. As part of a baking project, you might like to visit a local farm or mill and see if you can purchase milk, butter, eggs or flour for your recipe – what a delight for a child to meet the cow or chicken who made their chocolate brownies possible!
Languages: Many words we associate with cooking and baking are French, such as bain marie, coulis, patisserie, chef, choux, crepes, crème fraiche, en croute…the list goes on! Other languages also feature – did you know that ramekin is a Dutch word? Interesting exploration might include where the words come from and what their translation is.
History: Many traditional recipes have made their way down through time, changing along the way whilst some remain very much the same. You might like to source an old recipe online to have a go at, or see if you can find a cookery book from the library that has medieval recipes in, for instance. Many old manor houses and castles in the UK have kitchens that you can go and have a look around, often featuring the cookware and cutlery used. How did people preserve their food before fridges and freezers? You might like to have a go at making jams, pickles or salt preserves. Another idea is to find out about your family history; is there a recipe that has been passed down through the generations? What was Granny’s favourite comfort food? Are there any older relatives who might like to share their cooking skills with a younger audience?
Religious and cultural studies: Many baking recipes are linked to religious festivals. Familiar ones in the UK include hot cross buns and Christmas cake. You might like to explore other traditional cakes and bakes for religious or cultural celebrations, such as Chinese new year cake, Imbolc braided bread, or Divali Badam ka Halwa.