“I love to bake bread,” says 5-year-old Adrian Jonker. “I love that it has the beautifullest smell that goes with it.” Jonker, a kindergarten student at Mount Madonna School (MMS), made his comments during a recent classroom baking lesson. Riley Brown, also in kindergarten adds that she loves baking because she then gets to eat for class snack what she baked.
A baking lesson with students happens twice a week in the MMS PreK classroom, once with the preschoolers and once with the kindergarteners.
“Five or six children bake at a time,” explains preschool/kindergarten teacher Hema Walker, “So the room is filled with the happy sounds of other children involved in art activities and free play as we knead, stir and pour.”
Although baking may seem like a purely “fun” activity, Walker notes that several developmentally-appropriate skills are naturally embedded and practiced by participating, including: measuring, counting, turn-taking and learning to follow a recipe. “Baking our own food is also a way of cultivating an awareness of where food ‘comes from.’ Our recipes are chosen according to the seasons and our curriculum,” Walker shares.
Whenever possible, Walker and the program co-teachers involve their young students in harvesting and preparing the ingredients: picking apples from the garden apple tree for applesauce; grinding wheat in a grain mill for the bread; and pulling carrots from the garden for soup. “This helps make our connection with the Earth more tangible,” she adds.
One example of how baking becomes ‘academic’: for the first half of the school year kindergarteners bake bread every week. They knead the bread dough and shape it into the ‘number of the week’ – no easy task for a 5-year-old! In this way the children gain a concrete understanding of how the number is formed. And then, of course, they get to eat it!
In the second half of the year the kindergarteners bake a wider variety of dishes (like the preschoolers do from the start of the year) according to what is in season and what culture the students are studying for their “cultural awareness” unit.
For two months during this social studies unit, the students get to expand their palates as they prepare and eat food from a different country. This year the class is looking forward to making and enjoying Japanese food together.
As in other situations, good food is meant to be shared and enjoyed with good company. Sometimes the PreK students are able to include their 5th grade ‘Big Buddies’ in their culinary adventures. “Together we decorate the cookies that we baked, churn butter for the bread, and make little fruit pies to bake at home and share with our families,” notes Walker. Baking is an integral part of MMS’ PreK curriculum, and besides, says preschooler Benny Babcock, “it’s fun!”
Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.