Baking is a fun activity that kids of all ages can enjoy. Whether your child is an aspiring baker, or you just want to encourage their creativity while keeping them occupied, appealing to their sweet tooth is an excellent strategy.
Baking With Kids: General Guidelines for All Ages
When baking with children, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:
Start with safety. Set age-appropriate rules, and share them with your kids. Some basics to go over include: the importance of hand-washing before handling food ingredients, asking an adult's permission before cooking, rules about using the stove and oven safely, including using oven mitts and pot holders, and telling them what is off-limits.
Accept that there will be mess. You can decide in advance if you'll clean as you go, or tackle a big clean-up at the end. Just keep a damp dish towel (or paper towels) on hand to wipe up any floor messes, so you can avoid slips.
Be prepared. Read recipes before you start, and gather all of your ingredients, bowls, measuring spoons, pans, and cookie cutters ahead of time. For younger children, you can order the ingredients on the table or counter, so you can work left to right. Make sure to choose kid-friendly recipes that are simple enough for the ages and abilities of your budding bakers, so they can get a sense of "helping" you. For wee ones, this might mean simply adding eggs or oil to a packaged mix.
Get them involved. If baking with pre-schoolers, read the recipe aloud to them as you work. Ask older kids to read out each step as you work together. Allow kids to try some tasks themselves, even if it means the finished product won't look perfect. When they can't help, talk to them about what you are doing, so they still pick up lessons.
Encourage creativity. Let kids come up with their own ideas for cookie add-ins, or cupcake decorations. Show them an array of food coloring bottles, and ask them to choose icing colors for cakes. Invite them to come up with silly names for baked creations. Come up with your own ideas for making baking experiments fun.
Baking With Kids of Different Ages: Tips for Every Age Range
Pre-Schoolers (ages 2 to 5)
Most pre-schoolers love to help with baking. This age group is very hands-on and enjoys playing with ingredients. Encourage them to use their senses. Let them smell jars of cozy baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), peek into containers, and even taste some ingredients before they go into the mixing bowl. While these children will require lots of close supervision, every moment that they spend "helping" you bake will be filled with learning for them. Here are some simple baking tasks that pre-schoolers can do:
- Adding ingredients that you have pre-measured
- Sprinkling chocolate chips or raisins into raw cookie dough
- Rolling dough into balls
- Stirring pancake batter
- Brushing pastry with egg wash
- Getting ingredients from the fridge
- Handing you utensils
- Helping you "read" a cookbook by turning pages
Elementary Bakers (ages 6 to 8)
By this age, kids will have more developed fine motor skills. They will be able to measure out ingredients, and try their hands at cracking eggs (though you will likely still be cleaning up spill-overs and picking out shells). Elementary schoolers will have begun reading, so can follow along with simple recipes. Have them read an ingredients list aloud to you, as you gather supplies. Because this age group loves getting their hands dirty, greasing and flouring pans will be a popular activity. Most will not be ready yet to use the oven (and will need your close supervision if they do), but they can get a boost of confidence from cutting out simple cookie shapes, and decorating baked goods. Other baking tasks for this age group include:
- Measuring and pouring wet and dry ingredients
- Stirring batters
- Scooping batter into muffin cups
- Decorating cookies and cupcakes
- Making a pie crust with cookie crumbs
- Cracking eggs
- Helping you operate a stand mixer
- Using a spatula to scrape down the (unplugged) mixer bowl
Tween Bakers (ages 9 to 12)
By the tween stage, kids can do more in the kitchen. Many kids of this age enjoy baking cookies, cupcakes, and muffins, and some can take the lead on making these types of recipes. They will also enjoy decorating baked goods, and coming with ideas for "themed" cakes and bars. Use your own judgment to assess whether your kids are mature enough to handle their own, simple baking projects, and always remain on-hand to supervise, or remind them to turn off the oven, or unplug electrical appliances. Here are some baking tasks that kids in this age range can try:
- Using a stand mixer
- Separating eggs
- Placing baking trays into the oven
- Proofing and kneading bread dough
- Rolling out a pie crust
- Baking quick breads, muffins, and cupcakes
- Using the stovetop to make Rice Krispies squares
- Mixing up pancake batter
- Melting butter or chocolate in the microwave
- Using an icing piper to decorate cakes and cupcakes
Teenagers (ages 13 and up)
Teenagers who enjoy baking can be encouraged to step up their game by trying more complicated recipes, or even coming up with their own original creations. Just make sure they understand how to use all equipment safely, before letting them have free rein of your kitchen, and always remain available to help if needed. Teenagers will enjoy showing off their baking skills by decorating a birthday cake, or making a batch of holiday cookies for your family party.