Willa had a problem. It was her six-year-old son, Danny, who would climb the walls when there was no one to play with. "The racket was driving me crazy," says Willa. "Yelling, crying, stomping. Even TV wouldn't calm him down."
But as a stroke of good luck, Willa unwittingly discovered how to stop the screaming. It happened one weekend when she was baking a pie. "It was a Saturday, very drizzly and rainy. Danny was moping around until he came to the kitchen," Willa remembers. "I was baking a pie and I think it was the scent that drove him there, but he started hanging around, asking questions, and before I knew it, we were baking the pie together. It really did the trick. And all this time I had tried hard to keep him out of the kitchen!"
Short and cold wintry days can make for grumpy kids. And it's difficult to come up with creative ways to keep young ones busy indoors. But a well-supervised kitchen (with the rules clearly spelled out) may spark an interest you never knew your child had, and help her learn in a more engaging setting than a classroom. "Cooking and baking are wonderful activities for children for a variety of reasons," says Elaine Cohen, author of Super-Duper Cupcakes: Kids' Creations from the Cupcake Caboose. "The process of cooking is fun, but it also develops math and reading skills—we learn how to measure ingredients; follow a recipe's instructions; and see ingredients transform from many independent items into a single one."
And not to be lost in the equation is the sense of satisfaction a child gets by creating something from scratch. According to Elaine, "Not only does food nourish the body, but the process of making food is nourishing as well. It's 'I'm cooking something yummy. I'm doing something good for myself.' And that feels good."
First-time mom Melanie agrees. "Sally was really good at making messes, that's for sure. So it was a great idea to channel that energy into making something that didn't have to be scrubbed off the walls. And I have to say, my 5-year-old has a knack for oatmeal cookies."
But what if you're concerned about all those pies, cookies and cakes? While it's no mystery that sweets are more likely to keep your child interested in the kitchen, there are organic alternatives. "Cupcakes are really great when they're made from organic ingredients," says Elaine. "I suggest using organic milk and butter and farm-fresh eggs. Markets also sell organic sugars and flour. I can taste the difference when organic ingredients are used, especially the organic butter in buttercream frosting."
And how can you get your child's creativity going? Elaine has this tip: "Whenever I host a cupcake decorating parties, for friends or clients, I decorate a few cupcakes to show the children samples what they can do. I have found that most of the kids riff off my ideas and create their own marvelous decorations. I don't think I'm the first to discover that children are amazingly creative and imaginative."
Want to get cooking? Go to the next page for a recipe on cupcakes and frosting!