If cooking is a science, then baking is like chemistry: it requires precise measurements and certain ingredients in order for your experiment to be a success. It's also a delicious opportunity to learn. Measuring ingredients helps kids understand fractions, rolling and cutting out cookies is great for hand-eye coordination, and your kids can identify shapes as they decorate.
Today (Dec. 4) is National Cookie Day, and while it's super easy to buy cookies, it's much more fun to bake them with your kids.
Consider how many kids you'll be baking with, how much space you have in your kitchen, and what you want your kids to get out of the process. Are you working on fractions? Let them measure out the flour and sugar. Is your toddler learning about shapes? Spread a selection of cookie cutters out on the counter, but put the dough together yourself. Baking with budding artists? Make icing in advance, and let them customize the colors and decorate the cookies themselves (another great use for leftover Halloween candy!).
Baking expert Rachel Matheus of Mrs. Fields says you should be prepared -- you’ll inevitably have a mess. To make cleaning up easier, she suggests using a tarp or even some plastic garbage bags as a floor covering and use a disposable plastic tablecloth on the table, so when the fun is done you can simply gather up the plastic and throw all of the mess away.
Ready to get started? Here's an easy sugar cookie recipe from Mrs. Fields to try:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with 1/2 cup of milk. (It the dough feels sticky, refrigerate it for 20 minutes). On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about a half-inch thick and cut into shapes. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes -- cookies will be a light golden color. Frost with your favorite icing and decorate with toppings.
If you don't have time to make a mess in the kitchen, you can still celebrate National Cookie Day and get a little learning in using pre-made cookie dough. Scooping out spoonfuls (or breaking off the pre-formed pieces) offers some counting practice, and any time spent being creative together is a wonderful chance to make memories with your child.
What's your favorite thing to cook with your kids?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.