The Headmistress of St Nicholas Prep School in Kensington, says baking with children can teach them important lessons about food, science and more

Not many parents will look at their kitchen and think ‘laboratory!’ but that is exactly what it is. It’s a place where elements are combined and altered after undergoing a series of chemical and physical processes. How successful the experiments are, of course, depends on the skill of the lead scientist, traditionally known as the cook. For parents looking to help their child learn at home, baking can be a perfect way of combining learning and fun. So how can they turn messing around in the kitchen into a learning experience that doesn’t squeeze the fun out of it?

The scientific method

Start with the ingredients and measurement. Science, like baking, requires a set method of working – measuring accurately, finding the right equipment, observing closely, describing what is seen, predicting and drawing conclusions. Talk your child through each of these stages, explaining what quantities are needed, why you need them to be precise and how you can accurately measure them.

Keeping it visual

Baking provides plenty of opportunities for visual stimulus. Show children how to cream sugar and butter together, or how a cake needs to go from a solid to a liquid back to a solid again to be fully baked, or how yeast can make bread rise. These can all be seen, discussed, and learned from.

Start with bread 

One of the very best recipes to start with is a simple bread recipe. Bread is fantastic because you can ask questions relating to temperature (why does it need to be left to prove? Why does it have to bake at a certain temperature?); fermentation (how does yeast work?), measurements, changes of state, and more. A basic sponge cake is another great idea – you can discuss irreversible changes – and work on equations and maths problems when working out the ingredients you need.

Use the curriculum

To make the most out of these home baking sessions, parents should look at what is on the curriculum, and tie it all together. For those who are unsure, the internet is a fantastic resource – it will give you plenty of information on key vocabulary, for instance, and simple explanations of basic scientific concepts. And don’t forget, baking touches on all the STEM subjects, so there is a lot that can be learned from one seemingly simple cake or loaf of bread.

Making it fun

Remember this is not a lesson. For your child it’s a chance to discover, play and enjoy themselves with you. So make sure it’s fun.

5 Simple questions to ask your child

  1. What is the effect of heating and cooling on the ingredients?
  2. Why do cakes have ‘holes’ in them?
  3. What happens to the sugar when we stir the mixture or add it to warm water?
  4. How much does it weigh?
  5. What is the effect of adding sugar to the yeast?