I am a firm believer in controlled chaos… especially when it comes
to kids and creativity. Today we had a lot of each. Elli and Nate hosted a Christmas cookie playdate with three friends. 5 kids, 2 adults, 1 smallish kitchen and a lot of flour and sugar created an afternoon of delightful memories not to mention filling our whole building with the aroma of fresh baked gingerbread cookies (Sorry if you live upstairs, there's still some left!)
Here are a few thoughts on how we made this work…I've been cooking with Nate and Elli since they were toddlers. I find little tasks that they can do. It started with banging on pots or playing with measuring cups. Elli can now crack eggs.
I choose simple projects that set the kids up for success. As they gain experience I introduce new skills and varying levels of challenge. I focus on the basics since they are two and four. Baking gives the opportunity to work on basic math skills, memory, and story creation. I talk about the recipes I've chosen and now Nate is making up his own recipes, and surprisingly a lot of it makes sense.
Plan ahead. I do what I can in advance. For today I made the cookie dough, cleaned the kitchen, pulled out the Christmas cookie cutters, and even put the toppings in a separate bowls (This way I could control how much sugar was on the table and prevent extra from getting mixed up.)
Make sure everyone is happy and fed. Today’s play-date was afterschool when kids are typically hungry, so I offered snacks before beginning baking. Healthy food minimized the fallout from the sugar high!
I expect that there will be messes. Eggs will be dropped. Flour will get spilled. Sugar will get eaten and kids will probably get sticky. I plan clean up time. Today, I planned a quick and easy dinner that would not make many dishes. As I was cleaning up today Nate said “Momma, the table looked yummy.” Yeah… it was a sugary mess!
I try to explain what I’m going to do with the kids first. Sometimes this works sometimes not. We ended up with a two inch thick gingerbread man today, but it didn't matter we rerolled him. I try to have the kids work in shifts or take turns. Work together, be flexible. If you’re working with multiple younger children it helps to have another person in the kitchen. Camille was a great cookie chaos companion!
I consider basic kitchen safety. Washing hands, making sure everyone is clear of the oven and having everyone keep their hands away from the mixer make for a safe and fun experience.
I encourage creativity and bring in other experiences. Today we used a potato masher and meat tenderizer to add embellishments to our cut out cookies. Nate and Elli used this technique yesterday when serving up play-dough “tea and cookies.” It was something that I would never have thought up, but looked really cool.
Finally, I don’t expect perfection. If I want a perfectly beautiful batch of cookies, I make them after the kids are in bed. However, my goal is to give kids the experience of being in the kitchen, encourage learning, creativity, and independence so I let the kids try. Sure the cookies might have a lot more flour worked into them than ideal, but nobody will notice when a troupe of smiling, beautifully messy kids offers them one!
Have you cooked with kids? What works for you?