After school cooking class teaches important life skills

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Phineas Lenox demonstrates the hand mixer to Jake Armstrong and Ryan Bean. Photo by Deborah Stone.
Kids love Bear Creek Elementary School’s after school creative arts program. And their parents appreciate the opportunities their children have to explore the arts in a fun, no-stress environment.

Choices abound from cartoon illustration and screen printing to sewing, drama and paper crafts.

One of the more popular classes is Little Cakes, Pies, & Pastries, a six-week cooking course that teaches kids basic baking and cooking techniques, including measuring, mixing, folding, kneading and cutting, as well as safe knife skills.

Participants create a variety of desserts such as cupcakes, apple pie, cheesecake, quick breads, cinnamon-sugar pretzels and other delicious treats.

They also learn how to make healthy after school snacks such as yogurt dip with fruit, hummus and granola bars.

This is the third year that the class has been offered, but it’s the first time that it is being geared toward the older age group (4th through 6th graders).

Anita Barry is the teacher and cooking is one of her passions. The local woman learned her way around a kitchen at an early age, while helping her mom.

"This is a great class because it gives kids hands-on experience with cooking," she comments. "They’re not watching someone else cook. They’re learning by doing. And I think when kids are involved in this way, they’re more likely to apply the skills at home or in other environments. They’re also more interested in trying new things to eat, too."

She adds, "I feel they get a sense of accomplishment from creating good things to eat. And they take pride in what they make."

Barry explains that students work together in small groups of three or four with a parent volunteer on hand to provide guidance when needed. They follow a recipe, each taking his/her turn to chop, mince, measure, fold, stir and mix in the prescribed ingredients.

Barry provides all the supplies for each table group and uses portable ovens to bake the dishes.

"We make mini-sized things because they don’t need as much cooking time," she explains. "The class is only an hour and a half, so everything has to be done in that amount of time."

While the cakes, cookies and pies are baking, the kids get to work making a healthy snack. And, of course, eating the results is the high point.

"Most of the time, there’s no problem getting the kids to eat what they make," comments Barry. "But, even if they’re not sure, they know they need to try a bite. That’s the rule. If you make it, you need to try it. The kids usually surprise themselves by liking whatever they make."

At a recent session, with devil’s food cupcakes the featured dessert, students learned the difference between sugar and confectioner’s sugar, along with the correct way to measure dry ingredients and how to use a hand mixer.

Barry explained the term "mise en place," a French expression for "everything in place" and an easy preparation method that chefs and bakers use in the kitchen.

At a nearby table, fifth grader Paige Henderson and her friends Caitlyn Robison and Chloe Lingen gave the class an enthusiastic thumbs up.

"It’s really fun," says Paige. "At home, I just make brownies. I wanted to take the class to learn how to make other things." Caitlyn adds, "I really like everything we make and the best part is eating it." And Chloe chimes in, "I want to learn to make cake. I know how to make lasagna already."

Derek Knight, 9, equally enjoys both the making and the eating activities in the class. He hopes to do more cooking at home now that he’s got a few recipes under his belt. And fourth grader Phineas Lenox, who’s busy demonstrating the hand mixer with his trio of boys that include Jake Armstrong and Ryan Bean, notes, "We’re learning a lot of stuff, like measurement and fractions because you use math in cooking." He adds, "What’s fun is that we can make this stuff at home if we’re hungry. We don’t have to wait for our moms to make it for us."

Parent volunteer Helen Deems, whose daughter Sydney is in the class, comments on the benefits she sees the kids derive from the activity. "They get to apply all these different concepts and use their math and reading skills, as well as their group and presentation skills," she comments. "It’s really such a fun way to learn some valuable life skills."

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