Learning Every Day: The Importance of Asking; “Why Does That Happen?”

I want to just write here to allow anyone reading the opportunity to break down a simple activity to show you the learning involved, often without even realising it,  and allow a bit of an insight into why taking an unschooling approach works so well for us.

Activity: Baking a cake.

Its something that a lot of us do right? probably something that you do with your own kids and take it for granted, its a bit of fun right?

Step 1) Decide that you are going to bake a cake, decide which type or flavour cake you want to make, check a recipe and that you have the correct ingredients. In this house this task is led by the 5 year old. He decides he wants to make a cake and is sent into the kitchen with his stool to check the cupboards. He now knows what he needs to go into a cake. He wasn’t born with this knowledge, he has learnt it. He can identify the flour and the sugar etc when they are in our cupboard.

He can even go so far as to identify other products he would like to use, chocolate, cookies, candy etc…. and he plans his cake accordingly.

The latest was a three tier “rainbow” cake, with a centre of sprinkles ready to fall out when you cut into it, topped with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. He got this idea and knowledge of making ganache from watching cake videos on youtube.

Step 2) Wash Your Hands. This is always and important step, but at the moment is so much more crucial. N doesn’t always need prompting to wash his hands any more (aside from sometimes he needs that reminder as he is a 5 yr old) He knows the importance of this task, he has learnt it. He wasn’t born with that knowledge. We have had the questions over the years; “why do we need to wash our hands?” and we have answered openly and honestly about bacteria and bugs.

This led to looking at books, and looking at things through a microscope. We watched some cartoons about illness and this progressed onto transmission and the use of medicines etc… We had a movie night to watch Osmosis Jones and checked out Once upon a time; life on Youtube. So the importance of good hand hygiene was learnt and understood.

Step 3) Weighing and Measuring the Ingredients. This is fairly commonly thought of as Maths. Sure it is, children actually sit in classrooms looking at weighing and measuring on scales, they study text books which ask the question “Sally needs to use 200g of flour to make 1 cake, how much flour does Sally need to make 3 cakes?” Well guess what? N needed to make 3 cakes for his design, so he had to do this calculation. Not in a book, not because a book told him to, he didn’t even write his answer down! Yet he used a calculator and he got the number on the scales to match that on the calculator. He knew that he needed 3 lots of the ingredients, so this was done with each part.

Step 4) Pouring into a Cake Tin. Now, before he could do this part, his cake design meant he needed to divide his mixture into 3 equal portions and colour them. To do this he used the measuring markers on his mixing bowl to know how much mixture he had and he was able to use the calculator again to divide it by 3. He was then able to pour the mixture in measured amounts into another 2 mixing bowls. Where he added food colouring.

Step 5) Food Colouring: Not strictly necessary for cake making, but for his grand design it was required. N wanted different colours and we only had blue and red, so he used these to make a blue and a red layer for his cake, then combined the two for the 3rd, purple, layer. He wasn’t born with the knowledge that red + blue = purple, but he has learnt it.

Step 6) Baking the Cake. So this is another one which should speak for itself. Cooking is a life skill yes? To bake the cake requires selecting the correct temperature for the correct length of time. You want the cake cooked thoroughly without burning. This, like hand washing, opens up some fantastic opportunity for conversation. “Why does the cake get bigger?” “What happens if its not cooked properly?”  “How can you tell when it is cooked?” What these questions actually cover are, not only important health and hygiene topics, but also chemical reactions. The rising and the solidifying when exposed to heat, this is also something that we have explored using yeast when making bread, and in fruit when making jam.

Step 7) Layering and Adding the Details; So N planned for his cake to have sprinkles and candy in the middle so they would fall out when the cake was cut into. This involved layering the middle on to the bottom and removing a circular section from the centre of the middle layer. He did this using a glass which he pressed down onto the cake and cut around it. He was able to look and see roughly where the centre was, and knew to use a glass with a knife and a spoon to scoop the section out. He then filled this space with the sprinkles before adding the top layer.

Step 8) Decorating. Well this can be bought back down to good old arts and crafts couldn’t it? We love letting our children lose with their creative streaks. Its a reaction to temperature the opposite way, because we had the chocolate as a solid and added heat to turn it into a liquid, unlike the cake mix. Then when whipping the cream you don’t warm it up or cool it down but whipping with the air makes a very real change in consistency.

The cake was delicious and his plan for the sprinkles to fall out when he cut the cake worked. Thankyou Youtube.

nicks cake

You see, “Why does that happen?” is perhaps one of the biggest sentences ever when it comes to education. It is what initiates nearly all learning. From baking to observing nature, to seeing the wind turbines from the roadside and everything beyond.

Don’t be afraid to let children experiment, don’t be afraid to let them make mistakes. Support them with their plans and encourage evaluation. Ask “Why did that happen?” and let them figure it out, offering help as required. This doesn’t need to be written down, it doesn’t need to be read about in a book. Live it, do it, enjoy it and learn from it. And let your children do the same. Don’t underestimate the power of conversation when it comes to a childs learning.

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