Believe it or not, we all have a perfect environment for STEAM learning at our fingertips, in our homes and our early childhood settings...the kitchen! This blog post will explore how baking with young children can be great fun but can also promote the development of valuable STEAM skills.
Baking is a hands-on experiment in itself and the kitchen is the laboratory, filled with interesting gadgets, receptacles and implements. From pouring and measuring ingredients into a measuring jug or bowl, to observing the transformation of wet and dry ingredients into a dough or batter and then on to becoming an edible delight! By seeing how a cake rises in the oven, children are exposed to scientific concepts such as the chemical reaction of a baking agent with heat and other changes in the physical state of the ingredients. When following a recipe, children learn to follow step-by-step procedures, understand concepts such as cause and effect relationships and develop abstract thinking, problem solving and critical thinking skills.
The kitchen provides plenty of non-screen based opportunities to engage with technology. Various tools and gadgets used for cooking and baking are all forms of technology. Children can theorise about, observe and discuss the function of weighing scales, mixers, ovens, timers, and thermometers. Encouraging them to be comfortable with using these tools fosters their technological literacy.
Baking requires following a recipe with precision, which involves the use of engineering skills. Children learn to be adaptable, problem-solve and find solutions when faced with challenges, such as understanding why a cake does not rise, adjusting ingredient quantities, substituting certain ingredients, or modifying cooking times. They also develop spatial awareness by organising ingredients and utensils, rolling dough into different shapes and sizes, choosing appropriately sized bowls measuring jugs or baking sheets, allowing them to cultivate their engineering skills.
Baking is the ultimate form of edible art, encouraging creativity and self-expression. Children can design and decorate cakes or cookies and experiment with colour mixing, shape cutters and various patterns. Designing and creating a baked masterpiece together also promotes the development of team work and collaboration which contribute to children's social and emotional development and sense of confidence and competence.
Mathematics is a fundamental and integral part of baking. Precise measurement of the various ingredients have a direct impact on the successful outcome of baking. As a result of engaging in baking, children learn about sequencing and the order which ingredients must be added, lists, measurement, counting, temperature, weight, shape, size and dimension. Baking can also help children to understand the concept of time by setting the oven timer and leaving the final product to cool for an appropriate amount of time before eating.
To conclude, baking with young children in early childhood education provides an enjoyable and enriching experience that promotes the development of numerous STEAM skills such as hypothesising, observing, experimenting and calculating. Baking is a wonderful way for children to engage in hands-on learning using real materials to spark their curiosity and nurture their creativity. By incorporating baking activities in early childhood education, educators can lay a strong foundation for children's future success in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. So why not whip up a batch of muffins or cookies with your little ones today and watch as their STEAM skills rise like a cupcake!
About the Author:
Paula Walshe is a published author, PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in ECE at Dundalk Institute of Technology. Her PhD research focusses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths) in ECEC. In 2023 Paula published her first book entitled "Síolta in Practice" which is a guide to implementing Síolta quality standards in ECEC. It is published by Boru Press and is available here.