Baking Bread, Building Brains

I admit, it wasn’t how I originally envisioned spending the sunny Sunday afternoon just before Thanksgiving, but baking bread with my stepdaughter and her friend this afternoon, was ultimately rewarding.  Somewhere in between keeping the kitchen from getting completely covered in flour and washing all the bowls and baking sheets, I found a few moments to reflect on what was happening with regard to parenting and pedagogy.  Here are a few of my take-aways for the day.

Children thrive on completing concrete tasks together.
If you hadn’t guessed already, baking bread today wasn’t my idea. It was part of the King Arthur Flour Life Skills Backing Program, in which kids learn how to make bread and are given supplies to make a few loaves – some for a local food pantry or other community organization and some for their families.  I remember when my stepson took part in the program a few years ago.  Like George, Rosa and her friend were excited to try out the process they had seen demonstrated in school.  While they never said so specifically, they seemed genuinely enthusiastic about experimenting with the alchemy of bread making, something they normally take for granted.  And, they were very happy to be doing it together.  I didn’t hear one complaint about how long it was taking or that they wished they had more time for other activities.

Sometimes our children (students) need our help slowing down.
Today, the girls frenetic eagerness to measure, pour, and mix forced me to slow down my own actions.  I realized that I needed to be the calm I wished to see in my kitchen, and the world around me.  At first, this impulse was a response to the mess the girls were making as they lost control of their bodies to the raging hormones that cause them to get overly excited about just about everything.  But then, I realized it was bigger than that.  I wanted the girls to feel the sense of control that comes from reading directions and doing things right the first time around.  To see things they wouldn’t see if they were rushing, to make new connections, to build some appreciation for the magical process they were engaged in.

As they mixed and waiting, kneaded and waited, shaped the dough and waited, put things in the oven and waited, I could feel them relax and loose themselves in the activity just a bit.  It was even quiet for a few minutes.  Highly unusual for this pair.

A loaf of bread is much more than the sum of its parts.
While I couldn’t find a list of teaching objectives for the Life Skills Program, I know that we were practicing and applying skills from a wide range of disciplines.  I’d be interested to see a list of the learning standards addressed while baking bread.  However, I imagine important things that were learned in the kitchen today that wouldn’t show up on such a chart.  I’m sure things were learned today that I will never know.


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