Delicious learning: Baking serves up a batch of skills for children, tweens and teens

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Stock art

When you think of baking, your mind probably goes right to warm cookies, fruit-filled cobblers or pies and savory bread. While those are all the happy results of spending some time in the kitchen, when children, tweens and teens get involved in baking, they'll come away from the experience with a lot more than just happy taste buds.

It's no secret that kids learn while they're at play, but baking is a particularly great way to make learning interactive, effective and fun. With so many positive outcomes wrapped up into one activity, teachers, parents and others responsible for helping young people learn can use baking to create hands-on experiences that relate to everything from science to managing money.

Consider all of the ways that baking can apply to school subjects, everyday life skills and a richer food future:

* Science: Chemistry goes hand in hand with baking. A range of results can be clearly seen when including -- or leaving out -- key ingredients. Biology, agriculture and local food production become real when kids learn where ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, and leavening come from, or the physical changes that occur in a product when substituting ingredients to meet health and nutritional needs.

*Math: Baking is an activity that applies sequencing, ordering, fractions, weights, measures, dimensions, temperatures, adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying. Children can learn at all ages, from the early days when they can stack measuring cups, count out the number of ingredients that go into a recipe to more complex tasks for older kids, like working with fractions and calculating the costs and savings of do-it-yourself (DIY) baking.

* Health: As you pick out recipes and ingredients for baked goods, it's the perfect opportunity to talk about the nutritional value and function of the grains, milk, eggs, fruits, veggies, sugars, butter, leavening and salt used in baking. There's sometimes a misperception that baking can't be healthy, but teaching kids how to divide and control portion sizes, and to bake using a wide variety of ingredients actually helps young people try new foods and ingredients.

* Personal economics: Learning about managing household resources is a skill that will benefit kids throughout their lives. Baking not only teaches kids how to make delicious foods for themselves, but it also includes lessons about how much it costs when others prepare food for you, how much you can save with a few DIY food skills, saving and managing money. The economics of an active lifestyle includes food skills that save money and time all while burning calories and building traditions.

* Literacy: Another critical skill comes with reading ingredient lists, recipe directions and sequencing preparation steps. Combining reading with baking emphasizes comprehension, because kids apply what they're reading to an activity. If you miss a step in the instructions or don't read it properly, it can have a dramatic effect on what you're baking. But all is not lost -- this leads to evaluating the results, problem solving and critical thinking to improve the product.

Baking at home was far more common, if not essential, in past generations. Many adults have lost those skills. However, research conducted in 2011 by Mintel for the Home Baking Association showed that adults still know baking brings value to life -- 33 percent say they would bake from scratch, if only they knew how. Because no one's too old, or young, to learn to bake, it can be a great way for parents and kids to share a learning experience. And if you try out some of grandma's or great-grandma's baking recipes, it can be a tradition-rich, multi-generational family affair.

In the classroom or at home, there are countless opportunities for kids to gain a deeper understanding through baking. For classroom baking lessons, after-school activities, kitchen science experiments, a complete baking glossary, resource links and more visit