When you bake cookies with your children, you’re doing a whole lot more than just making treats and teaching life skills. The act of baking cookies together is one that creates a lasting bond with your kids, and warm memories they’ll treasure.
How many of your own happiest childhood memories are tied up with the smell of fresh-baked cookies?
Children are never too young to get started with “helping” in the kitchen, and most kids just love to learn how to bake cookies. So often we underestimate what the little ones are able to do in the kitchen! Just set aside a lot of extra time for baking cookies, so you can both take your time and talk about the activity while you’re enjoying the time together.
First, the recipe!
Easy Roll-out Sugar Cookies
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup butter (at room temperature)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp salt
- pinch of nutmeg
- Assemble and measure out all the ingredients. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set it aside.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy, using an electric mixer if you have one, then beat in the egg, salt, and vanilla.
- Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until you can’t see any flour in the cookie dough or at the bottom of the mixing bowl.
- Shape the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for an hour or longer.
(You can do all this first part ahead of time and leave the wrapped dough in the fridge overnight, if you want to break up the cookie-making into several shorter activities – not a bad plan if you’re baking with younger children who get bored if things take too long.)
- When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
- Line a baking sheet (or two, if you have them) with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to about 1/4-inch thick.
- Cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, remove from the oven, and let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before you remove them from the pan to finish cooling on a cooling rack.
Let the cookies cool completely before decorating them with piped icing or frosting and sprinkles, candies, etc. – the part we all like best!
Now, it doesn’t matter what cookie recipe you use. We like to bake our Easy Roll-Out Sugar Cookies most often, as it’s great fun to decide what shapes of cutters to use and then decorating the cookies afterwards.
It’s a Happy Mess
Oh, and by the way, yes, this is probably going to be messy. Expect to end up with flour in your hair; I’ve never found a way to avoid it, especially when baking with a couple of preschoolers.
Best to just make up your mind that your pristine kitchen will (temporarily) be a bit of a disaster area, and deal with it. As my own Little Kitchen Helper used to say, “It’s a HAPPY mess!”
If you think that mess is going to stress you out, however, you might want to spread out a big plastic tablecloth first to catch the flying cookie dough. That will make the clean-up faster and more easy, and let you keep a positive frame of mind.
All children mature at different rates, of course, in both their manual dexterity – their ability to do physical tasks that call for fine control of hands and fingers – and in their level of responsibility, as well as in their attention span.
You will of course rely on your personal knowledge of your own child’s abilities to decide what he or she is mature enough to tackle, among the many small steps involved in baking.
It also depends on how much prior experience the kids have had in the kitchen, and whether they’ve been helping, watching you work, or just passing through.
In general, however, there are certain skills that will be appropriate to different age groups. Here are some ideas of how you might share out the joyful work of the Easy Roll-Out Sugar Cookies among your own home kitchen crew, from wee toddlers to the oh-so-grown-up preteens.
Cookie Chores for Kids Ages 3 to 4 Years
Preschoolers can often do more than we might think, when it comes to baking cookies, and they take great pride in “helping Mommy and Daddy” to make treats for family and guests. The very youngest toddlers can “help” by playing with the measuring cups and spoons, or using a lump of cookie dough as modelling clay. As preschoolers get older, more coordinated, and more involved in what’s going on in the kitchen, here are some little tasks they can begin to take on:
- add ingredients as Mom asks for each one.
- Stir together the pre-measured dry ingredients.
- Choose the cookie cutters to use.
- Get out the baking sheets from the cupboard.
- Help to decorate cookies.
- Help to clean up the baking area and wipe down the counter.
As you can see, even cookies rolled out by a 4-year-old (with a little bit of adult help) can work just fine. (If you find they’re a bit on the thick side, just add another minute or two to the time they’re baking in the oven.) As you can also see, they disappeared pretty quickly when our friends came to visit!
Cookie Chores for Kids Ages 5 to 7
Children who have started school are ready to take on a bit more of a challenge. As well as all of the things a preschooler can do, a child who is 5, 6 or 7 years old may:
- Crack the egg into a bowl and pick out the pieces of eggshell that are bound to fall in – with clean hands!
- Put parchment paper onto the baking sheets.
- Roll out the cookie dough.
- Dip cookie cutters in flour and tap off the excess, ready for cutting the dough.
- Cut cookies, with a little direction (Mom or Dad will probably have to lift the cookies and transfer them to the baking sheet).
- Help to set (and watch) the timer, letting Mom or Dad know when the cookies need to come out of the oven.
- Decorate cookies by themselves.
- Help to wash up the baking equipment and utensils.
Cookie Chores for Kids Ages 8 to 10 (and up)
Cooking with kids in this age group is a blast. This is, I think, the age when boys in particular love to get on a manly chef’s apron and play “Iron Chef” in the kitchen, especially if they have an interest in science experiments or the motivation to get empowered to create an endless supply of sweet treats for themselves! At 8, 9, or 10 years old, most kids can do all of the things a younger child can do, plus:
- Measure ingredients.
- Mix the cookie dough (with supervision, if an electric mixer is used).
- Turn on the oven.
- Put the cookies on the baking sheet.
- With careful supervision, put the baking sheet in the oven and take it out again when the cookies are baked.
- Transfer cookies from the pan to the cooling racks.
- Count the cookies!
- Decorate cookies with more advanced decorating methods, such as piping on frosting or dipping in melted chocolate.
By the time a child is in late elementary school – say, by the age of 10 or 11, depending on the child – he or she should be ready to take on a lot of the cookie-baking tasks more or less independently, with only moderate supervision. And a responsible 11 or 12-year-old who has learned to cook at Mom or Dad’s side is usually old enough to “fly solo” on a familiar cookie recipe.
Cooking and baking with kids will help to teach practical life skills: organization, attention to detail and concentration, reading and following directions, measuring, counting, and telling time, food handling and hygiene, and a whole host of other skills that will serve them well in school and throughout their lives.
More importantly, that time together in the kitchen is super bonding time, where kids and parents can create something together, relax, talk about what’s on their minds, and enjoy the good feeling of being together in loving company at the heart of the home.
If baking with your children is a regular activity you do together throughout their childhood, you’re not just making a tasty batch of cookies together – you’re making sweet memories, too.