Thursday, December 26, 2013

Baking, Giving and Learning with Kids

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

We had new neighbors, and I wanted to welcome them with homemade cookies. But I was also having a carpal tunnel syndrome flare up, and could not stir batter without my hands going numb.

A week later and a four-toddler play date, and I had a big box of cookies to give, plus plenty to nibble on at home, too. Baking with my kids is becoming my new favorite pastime.

The last time I baked so many cookies, it was last Christmas, and I made a batch for everyone on our block. My toddler came with me to distribute them, permanently associating baking cookies with giving gifts. So there was very little protest when I removed over half of the cookies he (and three other toddlers) had creamed, mixed, and folded into a box to give away to the neighbors. They were not just giving away their sweets, they were giving away their time and effort – and they were ok with that.

There are other benefits to baking with kids. They can learn so much through baking – reading, counting, fractions, telling time – and even science lessons about how cakes rise and why eggs (or fruit) keep cookies together. 

But when one of our elderly neighbors said hello to my son, and he asked me later if we could bake cookies to give to her, I knew the lesson in giving was the most important one he got from baking together. 

Baking with my toddler has lessons for me, too—lessons that can be applied not just to parents, but also to teamwork and organizations. Toddlers stirring sugar and flour and butter and cocoa and eggs will spill some of it. They will lick their raw egg batter covered fingers. They will dump all the buttermilk into the flour mixture instead of alternating between the two. They will create cookies shaped like trapezoids and blobs. Here are the lessons I have learned from this:

1- Patience, flexibility, and forgiveness. It took me longer to bake when my helpers were much smaller than me and needed step by step instructions. Yelling at them when they spill some flour or lick the batter took away from the fun of the process and risked losing them as kitchen helpers in the future. Besides, I’ve spilled stuff too while baking – so let me take the "plank" out of my own eye first!
My son stirring batter. (c) Phoebe Farag Mikhail, 2013

2- There is a cost to not including the kids – they will need attention anyway, so if I did all the baking myself, I would have been constantly interrupted by their needs and demands, and spent the time fighting them off instead of working together. 

3- The perfect is the enemy of the good. What is perfect, anyway? Cookies shaped like blobs taste just as good as perfectly round cookies. Who cares? My neighbors loved the cookies, and it turned out they had a little boy my son's age, who was so excited to eat cookies made in part by his toddler neighbor.

On our next rainy or snowy day, I’m baking these cookies with my toddler.

What have you learned from doing things with children lately?