Stir it, Scrape It, Make It, Bake It! Eat It, Repeat It!

Three children mix ingredients in a mixing bowl.

By Mark Mabry, Head Teacher, and Paloma Moreno, Teacher 

When children arrive at school every day, they are welcomed with many opportunities for pretend cooking and baking play. They see a play kitchen in the center of the classroom and an area for sand and water play with real pots and pans and utensils. Herbs and flowers are readily available to pick from the garden and add to their own recipes. (“Candy soup” seems to be a perennial favorite!)

These activities appeal to children because they’re so familiar and relatable—all children have experiences preparing and eating food with their families. Those who are new to the classroom make their first connections with new peers through cooking and baking play. Everyone knows the play script: They combine ingredients, stir and mix, put their culinary creation in the oven, wait for it to cool and then serve each other their tasty delicacies. 

So it comes as no surprise that real baking and cooking projects immediately draw children in. One week in the fall quarter, a teacher introduced the children in Center PM to yeast bread that they helped make and then were able to eat at snack time. The enthusiasm that this garnered could be measured by the number of extra chairs that we had to squeeze around the table to accommodate so many interested and enthusiastic bakers.

Noticing the huge interest children had in making their play real, we continued to provide more gastronomic opportunities week after week, with the teachers bringing in their own favorite recipes to share with the children. Mark led off with challah bread, Lindsay offered apple crumble, Paloma made tortillas, Maryam baked banana bread, and Vanessa cooked vegetable soup. Every day, children would enter the classroom with joy and ask enthusiastically, “What are we making today?” followed by “Can I do it too?” All hands were on deck kneading dough, measuring flour, pressing tortillas, smushing bananas, and cutting vegetables. Because children had the chance to help make these creations every day of the week, they became expert cooks by Friday, remembering the recipes and the steps involved.

Baking enabled children to expand their vocabulary and explore science, math, and social connections. Baking and cooking are everyday tasks, but we often forget the chemistry that is involved when combining various ingredients—watching a yeast mixture rise or seeing the changes that happen before and after an encounter with heat from an oven or stove. Successfully creating something edible requires practice with counting and measuring. Teachers incorporated literacy into cooking projects by demonstrating how to follow a recipe from top to bottom. Finally, making food together required collaboration, patience, taking turns, self-regulation, and, most deliciously, sharing fresh food with the entire classroom.