“Mama, can I help you?” my five year old son, Warrick, asks as he drags the chair from the table to our kitchen counter. He pushes the chair right up against the cabinet next to me. He stands next to me on the chair, perfect height to be my pastry sous chef. This is his habit every time I bake. He doesn’t like helping me cook dinner – “too hot and too long,” he says. He prefers stirring, pouring, and dumping ingredients into the bowl to achieve maximum sweetness. He wants to do everything in the process. I measure out the ingredients, then pass them off to him to pour into the batter. I start the stirring, he finishes. We are quite a baking team. Maybe not yet ready for “Cupcake Wars,” but perfect for our little family.
My son is this precocious, strong-willed, and intelligent blonde, blue-eyed imp. He is fiercely independent as much as he is curious, but he is quite tender and sensitive. He requires motivation and incentive to pick up toys or clean, but when it comes to baking, he is all in. When his helpful spirit emerges, I engage it as much as I can. He is so eager, turning his radiant blue eyes on me, listening as I explain each ingredient and how they all work together. “Let me do it, Mama,” he pleads as I scoop the flour into the measuring cup. In these precious moments, we use our hands in simple tasks but join them also in creating something yummy together. When the muffins or the cookies come out of the oven, he is so proud and delights in tasting the final product.
I revel in the moments of our time together where he’s my willing partner. In our baking moments he is not antagonizing his little brother, not making annoying sounds or faces, not asking me five thousand times for something, but instead he is involved in a real job with me that keeps him smiling and occupied. I can enjoy being around the best parts of him, and he, in turn, can be around the best parts of me. Because in these baking moments, I am his guiding partner. I am not scowling at him, not barking orders, and not expressing displeasure or disappointment. I am encouraging him, teaching him, celebrating his help, and hugging him.
It’s for these reasons that I encourage parents to bake and cook with their kids. I find baking to be a great distraction from other annoying behaviors. It’s an event, an activity that draws kids in and helps them feel useful. I know that too often in my house I am supervising and monitoring more than I am playing with my boys. Baking provides ordered and structured playtime that I enjoy. Also, bake from scratch if you can. More ingredients equals more time. In addition to all of the previously mentioned benefits, I also believe that kids can learn some pretty important life skills in these baking moments:
- Working with others can make something great.
- Taking the time to develop and create will result in quality products.
- Attention to detail matters.
Baking may seem simple or daunting, depending on who you are, but I challenge you to make it a family event. Though the task may be simple and small, the joy it brings is huge. I hope my son never stops asking, “Mama, can I help?”