By Mike Shinn
We chose cookies that we could work on as a family. They may not be as fancy as some fromLeah's holiday cookies this year, but we have not yet heard any complaints.
We started by being as prepared as possible - it's exciting for kids to see you pick up the 50 lb bag of flour from Costco, but not to see you go back to the grocery store for a fourth time because you forgot that you needed more margarine. We used familiar recipes for the most part - ones that we have made regularly in the past enough to know that they weren't too challenging for a toddler. We also used two new items this year that helped tremendously. First, we bought our daughter a child's apron. This let her know when we were baking, versus when we were playing. While the apron was on, she knew to be more careful and patient and to watch for what was going to happen next. Rolling Pin Rings were also key to the success of child involvement this year. Had I seen these before, I would have used them for myself in the past! These colorful rings can be purchased at any specialty kitchen store like Bed Bath and Beyond, or Sur La Table. They come in a variety of thicknesses, and wrap around the ends of your rolling pin like a thick rubber band. These rings control the thickness of dough for rolling to give you a consistent cookie - perfect for toddlers (or myself) who might not be able to determine the thickness of dough as well as some adults.
Kids can help in a lot of ways when it comes to making holiday cookies: pouring, mixing, testing dough, decorating, rolling, balling and using cookie cutters. Most of all, this is a great way to help them learn patience and kitchen safety. For example, when getting cookie trays in and out of the oven, our daughter knew that the oven was very hot and that she had to step back and wait for an adult to take care of it. Having the apron on definitely helped her to know that this was a special time, and a time to be careful.
We made sure to have a lot of paper towels on hand, in the event of a spill or mess. Making cookies are messy by their nature, but having a toddler make cookies brings this to a new level. The apron helped for this as well, but the apron doesn't cover all of your body. For this, we made most of our holiday cookies together at night, followed by a trip to the bath just before bed. Doing so, we avoided a lot of mess on our daughter, furniture pets and toys - things she touches often. In between batches we also encouraged hand washing, to help with this as well.
Granted, though my wife and I did the measuring and detail work, we were able to involve our daughter nearly every step of the way. For the final part, she was able to help all on her own. We typically make enough cookies to deliver to neighbors and other friends around town. We loaded her up in her play car and she was able to knock on doors to hand over the treats. The entire experience this year was a great one, and we hope that the experience will have taught her some valuable lessons for years to come.
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