Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Decorating with Kids

I've mentioned before that my boys love to help me in the kitchen.* Who wouldn't?! I make cookies, cake, cake pops, why would they not?!
*and by love, I mean, tolerate it when I force them to decorate things before they eat them.

Sometimes, this can be an enjoyable pastime.

Sometimes, it can be a nightmare.

With 'cookie decorating season' upon us, (Shut up! It's a real season!) I thought I would offer my suggestions to help make decorating with the kids not only possible, but perhaps enjoyable.

My Top Three Rules for Decorating with Kids:
#1- Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
#3- Low Expectations

 #1- Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

My goal when I sit down with my kids (or a group of kids) is to have every possible thing they (or I) could need within an arm's reach.

This was a gingerbread house party I set up for ten 4-year-olds. Each had their own graham cracker house that I had "glued" together with icing the night before, a baggie with icing, and small cups with decorating accents. On the counter behind me would be the rolls of paper towels and boxes of baby wipes for clean-up duty.

When my boys and I do cookies, I try to outline them before they sit down to decorate. This helps keep the icing on top of the cookie (instead of overflowing onto the plate), and it means they don't have to wait while I do it when they're ready to go.

When it's just me and my boys, I try hard to get them to do their cookies one at a time. If it's two of them and one of me, I'm in trouble, and one has the overflowing wild cookie before the other has even picked up a bag.
And to be completely honest, this kid always has the overflowing wild cookie. I don't get it. He just does.

But as long as I have icing, toothpicks and  lots of damp paper towels nearby, we're good to go.

*A Note About Sprinkles: Always use large paper plates when you do sprinkles with younger kids (and adults, actually)... they make "reusing" the sprinkles so much easier. You can just fold the plate and pour the sprinkles back into the jar. And the lip on the plate helps keep round sprinkles from ending up everywhere.

*A Note About Cake Pops: When I do cake pops with my kids... I only invite them to help with the dipping and sprinkling. I think until they're maybe 9 or 10, they're just not going to be precise enough to roll the cake balls. Plus, they'll get bored with that part. When I get ready to do cake pops with my boys, I have everything ready... candy melted... styrofoam and lollipop sticks... sprinkles... and get them up to the counter to dip a few... and then let them eat one and be done.


In case you missed my rant a few weeks back about finger-licking... it really is important when you're decorating with the kids that you teach them not to lick their fingers while they're working. Especially if you're doing it in a group because they share things, and... ewwww!

With my boys, seeing as they  have been decorating since the picture above-- about a year and a half old-- they get it now, and they know they have to wash their hands if they go into their mouths. It was just a lot of repetition. "Oh! You licked your finger... go wash your hands with soap." "Oh! You licked your finger..." After a while, they get tired of washing their hands.

Of course, the first dozen times or so that we decorated, they only decorated ones that they ate... that also made it easier because when they did lick their fingers, I still made them go wash, but at least I knew the ones I didn't see were only going to their mouths, not poor neighbors and friends.

Another way to keep their fingers out of the icing (and therefore out of their mouths) is to give them lots of toothpicks to use to help fill in their cookies with icing... swirl the icing... or move sprinkles around. Watch those toothpicks, though, they tend to be licked in my house often. We have a single-use policy on toothpicks these days.

#3- Low Expectations

The key to coming out of any decorating experience with kids involved is to lower your expectations. I learned this really quickly when I started teaching kids' classes. Their expectations are way lower than anything you or I have.

They think their creations are perfect... even if they have three eyes, seven noses and two mouths! And, you know what?! They're right! Look how awesome these cakes are! Way cooler than the boring big one at the top!

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