KiwiCo’s Science of Cooking: Mini Cakes helps kids get creative and confident with cake!
Developing independence & confidence
By doing real work in the kitchen, kids gain life skills they’ll use, well, for life! (And just think how impressed your kiddo’s future high school friends will be when they show up with homemade cookies.) The key is to set up jobs at and just beyond your child’s level of development. Educators use the phrase “zone of proximal development” to describe this sweet spot for learning where a child can’t quite complete the task on their own but can do so with guidance and encouragement. Baking naturally offers plenty of opportunities for parents to help kids tackle new challenges — and gain confidence by overcoming them.
Pro tip: Put your child in charge of tasks they can handle — and support them on tasks they can’t (yet). Got a cautious kid? Look for opportunities to let them direct the action. Being able to choose or customize a recipe can be a great motivator for kids to try something they’re a little nervous about (such as cracking an egg or using a microwave).
Pick your favorite yellow cake recipe (or box mix) and jazz it up with some fun additions — kid’s choice! Just pick one (or more) and add them in with the batter.
- 2 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles
- 2 Tbsp lemon or orange zest
- Handful of peppermint hard candies, crushed into small bits
- 2 tsp cinnamon + a pinch of cayenne pepper
- 4 Tbsp mini chocolate chips
- Handful of red raspberries
Measuring with a real kitchen scale helps kids practice math skills. (From KiwiCo’s Science of Cooking: Mini Cakes.)
Playing with math & measurement (minus the stress)
Ask any baker — precision matters! Because baking is so heavy on careful preparation and measuring of ingredients, something as simple as a cookie recipe offers a golden opportunity to explore math concepts in a playful, tangible way. Even as early as elementary school, math might start to feel intimidating to some kids. Parents can help by building positive associations around math, and a great way to do that is to weave math talk into everyday interactions. It’s especially satisfying for kids when they get a chance to be the expert and tell you the right answer!
Pro tip: Keep an eye out for age-appropriate math talk as you work through a recipe with your child. A kindergartener might love to help count out the eggs you need, while an older child can put their times tables to good use by helping to double a recipe.
This experiment shows how weight measures are more precise than volume measures for baking. For a little extra number-writing practice, grab a paper and pencil and write down your results!
- To get ready, you’ll need a kitchen scale, 2 medium bowls, a ½-cup measure, and some flour. Set one bowl on the scale and zero it out.
- Scoop to fill the ½-cup measure with flour, and dump it into the bowl on the scale. How much does the flour weigh?
- Dump the first scoop out into the second bowl. Then repeat 2 more times so you have 3 weight measurements for the same scoop. (If you have another ½-cup measure, try that too!)
- Observe your results — did all the numbers match? Probably not! Scoops of the same ingredient don’t always weigh the same. So if you need a precise measurement, a scale is definitely the weigh to go!
KiwiCo’s Science of Cooking: Bread & Butter guides kids through experiments and recipes to discover the science of bread and butter.
Inspiring kid-led science discoveries & experiments
Cooking is chemistry, and baking offers tons of opportunities to observe, ask questions, and make discoveries. Parents can help kids engage with science in the kitchen by using questions based on the scientific method. First, ask a question. I wonder how yeast makes bread rise? Then, make a prediction. I think the yeast needs food to grow. Finally, test and observe! Let’s compare mixing the yeast with and without sugar. Even something as simple as toasting a slice of bread or baking cookies can be turned into an experiment. I wonder what would happen if we baked the cookies for 1 minute more? Ask your child a quick “I wonder…” and see if you can turn it into a “Let’s try!”
Pro tip: Encourage your child to observe and ask questions. Science is all about curiosity about the world, so never feel like you need to have all the answers! Rather than jumping to an explanation, first try asking your child what they notice and what they think is going on.
Browning dough experiment
This experiment is quick to set up, and offers an easy (and tasty) way to encourage kids to predict, observe, and test.
To get ready, you’ll need store-bought bread dough, a baking sheet covered with parchment, and milk. Divide the dough into 8–10 equal rolls and space them out on the baking sheet.
Brush some of the rolls with milk and some with water. Leave some plain.
(Ask your child to make a prediction: What do you think will happen when we bake them?)
Bake the rolls according to the package directions.
(Ask your child to make an observation: What do you see? Are some rolls darker than others?)
Now eat your results — and plan your next experiment!
(Ask your child to think about other questions: Was your prediction right? Is there another test we could try next time?)
Recipes with step-by-step pictures are more accessible for young kids and help support developing readers. (Featured: a recipe from KiwiCo’s Kiwi Crate subscription line.)
Practicing reading & pre-literacy skills
Of course, reading along with a recipe is great practice for kids already comfortable with reading, but baking offers benefits to pre-readers and emerging readers as well. Learning to follow along with step-by-step instructions (like recipes!) is a key pre-literacy skill that also supports kids’ emerging executive function and social skills. Recipes with step-by-step visuals can be very helpful for emerging readers, but parents can also provide support for any recipe by communicating the steps. And for older kids, ask them to take the lead in reading the recipe and telling you what to do!
Pro tip: Use “first, next, last” language to help break down instructions for your child. Kids may not be able to focus on a complex sequence of actions, so it’s helpful to make the sequence explicit and simple. First, let’s pour the milk. Next, we’ll mix. And last, we’ll pour the batter into the pan.
Printable spouting whale snackDownload the PDF to try this step-by-step illustrated recipe with your child. Warning: this snack is almost too cute to eat!
KiwiCo’s Yummy Crate subscription line helps kids and families connect in the kitchen through yummy food and warm conversations.
Building communication & social skills
Practicing communication skills and handling the give-and-take of conversation is (forgive the pun) baked into baking with kids. And we all know that there’s no better place than the kitchen to talk, to connect, and to create warm family memories and traditions. Every family has its own stories, and it’s never too early to involve little ones in sharing in an old tradition (or starting a new one). So break out those favorite family recipes — and happy baking!
Pro tip: To build communication skills, try asking wh- questions while you bake. Questions like where, what, when, and why help kids build vocabulary, clarify their understanding, and practice forming an answer that you can understand. That’s a lot of skills for a simple question!
Dinnertime drop biscuits
This is a perfect family dinner recipe: it’s quick, it’s easy, everyone will love it, and you can mix in whatever flavors fit your family. Try the suggestions below, or experiment with your own favorites!
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 5 Tbsp butter, melted
- ½ cup milk
Plus any or all of these mix-ins:
- ⅓ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 Tbsp real bacon bits
- 2 Tbsp chopped chives
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp dried rosemary, thyme, or sage
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) and lightly grease a baking sheet.
Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a bowl, along with the mix-ins you chose.
Add the milk and melted butter and stir until just mixed.
Drop heaping spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.
Bake for 9–11 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown.
Let cool and enjoy!