7 STEM lessons students can learn from baking

Sep 23, 2014 at 4:42 p.m. ET

How can you combine a student's love for baking with key lessons in math and science? Just by following the steps of a recipe, children can make important connections to lessons in the STEM field.

For many families, baking can be a popular activity that allows parent and child to bond and to share familial traditions. Daughters and sons enjoy the tasty treats that result from the pastime, but baking can also teach young individuals a number of academic lessons.

In particular, baking is an ideal vehicle for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) exploration. As STEM grows in importance within our elementary, middle and high schools, why not equip your student to succeed in it? Here are seven STEM benefits of baking with your student.

1. Exposure to measurement systems

The ability to accurately measure precise amounts is a critical skill in many STEM subjects, including chemistry, engineering and math. Allow your student to work with measuring cups when you bake; they are wonderful visual aids. Ask your child to compare amounts like one cup and an eighth of a cup as you gather ingredients.

2. Exposure to critical thinking

Critical thinking exists in all aspects of education, at every level. Students who succeed exercise it often, and an item as simple as a recipe can begin to teach children how to evaluate and apply information correctly. If your student is old enough to read, permit her to assume control of reviewing and sharing the recipe aloud.

3. Exposure to chemical reactions

Children with a passion for chemistry will find great delight in the reactions that characterize baking. Challenge your student to hypothesize why bread rises or why sugar and yeast make a fine pair. Older children may enjoy the more technical explanations that many comprehensive cookbooks provide, as well as the opportunity to experiment freely.

4. Exposure to problem-solving

Despite our best efforts, baking projects sometimes end poorly. These failures are the perfect opportunity to reinforce your student's problem-solving skills. Why did the cake collapse in the oven? Was it because we opened the door? Why did the bread fail to rise? What can we do differently next time to avoid this result?

5. Exposure to structural principles

Engineering is an integral component of many kitchen endeavors, including the creation of cakes and pies. Pie crusts, for instance, come in multiple strengths. Which is best for a heavy filling, like meat? Which is too weak? Pose these and other questions to your child to introduce her to the central tenets of this STEM field.

6. Exposure to creativity

Increasingly, STEM subjects prize creativity (see, for instance, the STEM to STEAM movement). To foster this ability, encourage your student to personalize a basic recipe; for example, add or subtract ingredients based upon her preferences. You can also allow your child to decorate the baked goods (cupcakes, donuts, etc.) you create together.

7. Exposure to real-world contexts

Activities like baking can spark or strengthen an interest in STEM, as they directly demonstrate its usefulness in an engaging manner. If your student dislikes academic realms like math and science, try baking with her; you may soon find her opinion changing.

Happy baking.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

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