Baking is a tasty and fun hobby. Most people probably wouldn’t equate it with science, but the truth is that baking is a tool we can use to demonstrate certain science concepts. Homeschoolers spend a lot of their time in the kitchen, so we might as well explore science with baking.
When we bake the cakes or make the bread, we are not only exploring a science topic, we’re making lunch or a snack. Life is full of learning even when there isn’t a worksheet included. So here are a few ways to teach science through cooking to children of all ages.
Simple Baking Science Ideas for Younger Children
Younger children love to help in the kitchen, and though at times we wish we could just get it done, it’s good to embrace the mess and let our little ones learn alongside us. Here are two simple ideas to connect science with baking your young children will love.
Quick Breads Are Simple and Yummy
Younger children are enthralled by cakes and muffins, plus they are so yummy! These are known as quick breads, and the raising agent is often baking soda. The mild acids in a second ingredient, milk, are sufficient to trigger a reaction and allow the dough to rise. This is an example of a reaction of an acid with an alkaline substance.
Baking powder also makes quick bread rise, which consists of baking soda and some added ingredients such as cream of tartar and corn starch. The baking powder is a base, and the cream of tartar is an acid, so it can be used in several recipes where no acid is otherwise present. Cakes rise by baking powder releasing carbon dioxide gas.
Here are some quick bread recipes to try out:
Learning about pH
The pH scale (potential hydrogen) ranges from 1 to 14, with seven being neutral, 1 to 6 acidic, and 8 to 14 alkaline. The pH value can be measured with litmus paper, so children can test small amounts of everyday items in the kitchen to see where they fall.
You can also use red cabbage to create your own pH indicator and test different household liquids. Here is a great demonstration from SciGuys.
Learning Equivalent Measurements
Science is always about precision. Especially when baking, children have to learn to measure things accurately so that the recipe comes out well. They learn basic measurements like cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons.
If you have a larger family, they can also practice fractions by doubling the recipe, whereas if you need a smaller size, halve the recipe. You can also practice equivalent fractions by having your kids only use a 1/4 cup or a 1/2 teaspoon to measure for the entire recipe.
How many 1/2 teaspoons make a tablespoon? (6) How many 1/4 cups would you need to make 2 1/2 cups of flour? (10) This will also help illustrate some beginning fraction concepts in math.
Science With Baking for Older Kids
Don’t think that science with baking activities are only worthwhile for your younger kids, there are plenty of concepts for your older children to explore.
Inflate a Balloon
Yeast breads are a challenge for all cooks and also a fascinating scientific experiment. You can start with a simple experiment where you inflate a balloon with yeast to illustrate how yeast makes bread or pizza dough rise.
For inflating a balloon with yeast you’ll need:
- A package with active yeast
- A small, clean, clear plastic soda bottle (16 oz.)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- Some warm water
- A small balloon that fits over the mouth of the bottle
Fill the bottle with about one centimeter of warm water. Add the yeast and swirl the mixture around. Next, add the sugar. The heat activates the living organism, the yeast, and the sugar nourishes it.
Now the digestive system of the yeast begins to produce gas that makes the dough rise. Place the balloon over the neck of the bottle and put the bottle in a warm place. Within about 15 to 20 minutes, the balloon should begin to inflate.
Make Your Own Pizza Dough
Once the children have seen how yeast works, they can learn to make pizza dough. What kid isn’t going to love the idea of a homemade pizza for lunch?
The most important considerations are that the water must not be too hot and the dough must rise in a warm place. If you’re not having much luck on your countertop, then set the oven to the lowest temperature and put the dough in for a bit.
Here are a few recipes for your child to choose from for their first go at a homemade pizza:
While this is slightly wasteful, it is a valuable lesson on how certain ingredients affect recipes and the importance of following the baking instructions carefully.
To make this, you will need four small greased pans for baking. Ramekins would be a great choice.
Recipe for each cake:
- 6 tablespoons of flour
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 2 or 3 pinches of baking powder
- 2 tablespoons of milk
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 of an egg (Beat the egg into a cup; beat it until it is mixed and then use about a third of it. Save the rest for 2 of the other cakes)
The students make four different batches of batter, each with one a slight difference.
- Cake one: precisely as instructed. Label it 1.
- Cake two: except omit the oil. Label it 2.
- Cake three: omit the egg. Label it 3.
- Cake four: omit the baking powder. Label it 4.
Place the ramekins on a baking tray, keep track, and bake in the oven at 350 F for 15 to 20 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool down briefly. Use a spoon to check the texture and taste of each cake.
They are all edible, but eggs help to keep the recipes together and make them rise, the oil keeps the cakes moist, and baking powder makes cakes rise.
Use Baking for New Scientific Understanding
Homeschool science experiments are often neglected because of the need to find unusual supplies, however, these simple kitchen ideas use what you most likely have already on hand to demonstrate science with baking.
Additionally, you can explore some kitchen science while getting lunch ready for your homeschooled crew!