Holiday baking: a sweet way to help teach kids math essentials

Spending time in the kitchen with little ones is always time well spent, but never is it more fun than during the holidays. Whipping up special goodies for family and friends makes memories and traditions that last a lifetime. It’s also a spatula-licking, great way to teach and reinforce basic math skills, one teaspoon at a time.

The key, of course, lies in measuring and counting ingredients, as well as sharing the finished product. Kids practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. This is also the premise behind the tail-wagging K9 Kitchen episode of the animation/live action series Charlie & Company™. Pull out your ingredients, pop in the DVD, and stir up some fun singing along with the “Counting in the Kitchen” song, written and performed by Brian Vander Ark.

One holiday baking classic, a gingerbread house, is always packed to the rafters with countable ingredients, including candy cane and gum drop decorations. Sure, this traditional favorite can seem pretty daunting but online recipes abound, and Howcast.com even offers a video claiming to make it easier.

Looking for something cute but really simple? Visit Pillsbury.com to make Easy Reindeer Cookies using just four ingredients: a roll of Pillsbury gingerbread dough, chocolate chips, candied cherries for noses and pretzel twists for antlers. Help kids count out how many will be sharing the cookies, then how many parts and pieces for each and every reindeer. Rudolph will do a double-take when Santa jumps back in the sleigh with these on board!

Snow flying? Settle in to watch Frosty, but before you get comfy, visit myrecipes.com to make some appropriately themed marshmallow snowmen. Again, help kids measure and count out loud. Nestle offers a slightly different version, snugged down on bases made from their classic chocolate chip cookies. Think of them a little like open-faced s’mores—with eyes.

If holiday schedules seem too busy for anything but the bare basics, why not spend a chilly afternoon baking up a batch of regular chocolate chip cookies, using the back-of-bag directions? It doesn’t get much easier, yet kids still get the benefit of measuring, counting—maybe even doubling and halving—then sampling the results fresh out of the oven.

Or skip the oven altogether, and help kids make a colorful, crunchy snack to take along on that umpteenth trip to the mall or the next ride to Grandma’s. It still very much “counts” for a math activity.

Rainbow Snack

Measure and mix these ingredients for a tasty snack.

— 1 cup of fruit-flavored puffed cereal

— 1 cup of fruit-flavored cereal shaped like O's

— 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds

— 1/2 cup of peanuts or mixed nuts

— 1/2 cup of raisins and other dried fruits

Put all of the ingredients into a small plastic bag. Give the bag a good shake. Your snack is ready for travel!