Ready, Set, Bake!

Posted April 21, 2020

By, Tracy Riekenberg

At the time of this publication, we have all been home for at least four weeks, some of us five weeks or more! This Stay-Home order has no doubt left you stir-crazy (it has me!) with time to spare. This extra time at home is the perfect opportunity to dust off your Kitchenaid mixer and get cooking with your kids!

Children as young as 18 months can help you cook. The very young are great stirrers and taste-testers. With guidance they can help wash vegetables and measure ingredients. They can mash soft ingredients like bananas. When you’re done cooking, they can wash the plastic/non-breakable and non-harmful dishes such as measuring cups and spoons. 

All Seasons students are experts at the basics of cooking. At school, we make everything from scrambled eggs to granola bars, muffins to smoothies. At preschool age, children are ready for more advanced tasks in cooking: measuring, stirring, scraping, cutting soft ingredients (using a safe knife), cracking eggs, kneading dough, rolling cookies or biscuits, spreading butter or jam, and more. When my own children were preschool age, we loved to bake cookies and muffins. Their favorite job (aside from licking the bowl!) was the scooping. Something about the cookie scoop was intriguing and fun to try. 

Cooking together is, of course, a learning time for children. The youngest will learn language skills (what does “measure” mean, for example) and older children are working on math skills – more/less, fractions, time, and so on. But aside from “school readiness” learning, when children cook they are also developing motor skills. That cookie scoop? That helped my kids with their fine motor development in their hands, which in turn helped them be able to write when they started school. Measuring and pouring supports the development of children’s hand-eye coordination. Stirring a thick batter can help children with practicing something that is hard and not giving up.

In addition, research suggests that children who engage in the preparing of meals are more likely to try new foods and be adventurous eaters. A new recipe served to a 4-year old may be turned down, but the same recipe that child helped prepare may be devoured and asked for again! 

What if you haven’t been cooking much with your kids? Where do you start? 

I found baked goods the easiest thing to do with my kids when they were young. The ingredients are easy to measure (if messy) and there aren’t many sharp tools needed. The mixer was interesting to watch as it went ‘round and ‘round. And the results were delicious to try! Muffins, cookies, cakes – we made it all! The important thing is to find a recipe that you have all the ingredients for, is at a level at which you are comfortable helping your children, and that you are excited about. I’d also suggest keeping your expectations low. If the only thing your child does this time is measure one cup of flour, then that is a success! Small and gradual steps will build up their stamina and interest in cooking. 

I’m no fool, though. I am not going to pretend that cooking with children is always an easy, mess-free, and lovely bonding experience. More times than not, when I cooked with my kids, we made a HUGE mess. I often felt like snatching the spoon out 

of their hands because it would be faster if I just did it myself. And do not get me started about their whining about whose turn it was to do which task. UFF DA. But like most really meaningful parenting tasks, the long term results have been worth it. 

My children are nine years old now. We have made cookies, muffins, scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, tacos and pancakes together during this time away from school. In fact, today my daughter made the pancakes for lunch all by herself. She read the recipe, gathered the ingredients, made the batter, and cooked the pancakes with very little help from me. They were tasty – and I didn’t have to cook a meal! 

Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Children of all ages who cook are learning life skills: reading a recipe, gathering ingredients, following directions, preparing a meal, cleaning up and taste-testing. They are learning to become self-sufficient humans who will thrive as they grow up. Who knows? Maybe someday when they are grown, they’ll invite you over for a delicious meal they prepared. 

The Beauty of Box Play

Posted April 14, 2020

By, Roxie Zeller

Almost every family has a story about children playing in boxes. For my husband’s family the story is about the refrigerator box that the neighborhood families turned into a rocket ship. This story usually ends with my husband telling about the “horrific” sight of watching the box, with his stomp rockets taped to the side, being crushed by the recycling truck. I remember turning boxes into boats, race cars, and a puppet theater as a child. The puppet theater ended up staying in my room for almost a year after we made it. 

As an adult, I now look at boxes and tend to think, “How am I going to get this in the recycling?”, “That is a lot of cardboard,” or “Should I save this for a moving box?” Rarely do I look at a box now and think things like, “Wow! That looks like a good place to read,” or “This is the perfect rocket ship,” or “If I cut a hole here, I could make this into a fort.” 

Recently I found myself with two big boxes sitting in my apartment taking up space. With no desire to wrestle the boxes down to the recycling, I decided to take them to All Seasons to see what the preschoolers would do with the boxes. As the preschoolers started to look at the boxes and make plans, I began to see the endless possibilities of boxes again. These boxes were houses, rockets, monsters, and haunted houses. The children decided what the boxes would be and worked together to plan out where doors or windows would be cut out, and eventually they worked together to paint the boxes. They tried to make scary colors, mixing the primary colors with black to make them spookier. Then with the addition of Halloween decorations, the boxes transformed from plain cardboard boxes into haunted houses. The preschoolers would climb inside and sit all squished together giggling.

I kept thinking there is so much beauty in box play. It’s not the same kind of play that comes from the dramatic play area or blocks, but is something truly unique. On the outside, it just looks like children sitting in boxes, but for the preschoolers, sitting in the small, dark box transports them into a different creative space that is truly open to endless possibilities. In other areas of play, children have boundaries in place, or there are specific scenarios that adults decide. But boxes provide children a different kind of self-directed play that is full of pure creativity. This kind of play can also occupy a child for quite a long while and tends to carry over from day to day. The beauty of box play is not exclusive to boxes, however; blanket and pillow forts can invoke this same pure creative play. It must be something about small dark places that let children’s imaginations run wild. 


 Now that we are all under the stay-home order and families have their children home all day, it can be overwhelming for parents to keep them occupied and get work done. Toys can occupy a child for a while, but over time they will grow bored of them, and start finding themselves in sticky situations. A simple solution may be to find some boxes and let children freely explore the beauty of box play.