The power of simplicity for children
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing children learn a plethora of critical life skills in less than an hour’s time. I spent part of my morning volunteering at the summer breakfast camp in Coplay.
This free program is open to any child residing in Whitehall or Coplay, and it is fully staffed by volunteers. Individuals, organizations, businesses and faith communities come each day from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to interact with children in small- and large-group activities that promote fun and learning. Children start the day with a full breakfast then leave with a bagged lunch. Extras are available for siblings back at home.
The day I was there was cooking day. The five girls who chose this activity knew exactly what it meant when the camp leader, Pat Karo, told them to get ready. The girls washed their hands and donned mesh hairnets. I tied a few aprons and guided small hands into vinyl gloves. Once fully geared up, they stood around a table set up with ingredients and all the tools necessary to make cupcakes from scratch.
Karo laid out the recipe. She explained about following recipes, why we do what it says and in the order given. She asked for a volunteer to read the first instruction (preheat the oven to 350 degrees). They set the oven temperature together and then returned to the table.
Step No. 2 was read by another girl. Each participant had a chance to spoon flour into the one-cup measure and pour it into the sifter. The same followed for the remainder of the dry ingredients. Karo explained the meaning and purpose of sifting. The girls took turns cranking the handle on the sifter.
The campers were also educated on the critical importance of leveling off their measuring cup or spoon. This process was repeated for the remaining ingredients. There was turn-taking, sharing and using manners to ask for items. Five eggs were required, and the recipe required they be “beaten until stiff.” Karo explained why this was important for the success of the recipe and why it is important to stay with a task until the desired outcome is reached. The girls were amazed at how the pale yellow liquid from the eggs morphed into peaks of white froth.
The last step was to place paper cupcake liners into the wells of the pan and scoop 2/3 cup of batter into each one. The importance of taking one’s time with a task and following directions were emphasized here.
I was in awe at the number of life skills — those needed for success in life — were being taught without the girls even knowing they were learning. Some of these included sequencing (following steps of a recipe or getting ready to cook); literacy (expanded vocabulary and reading the recipe); math (using measuring tools, counting and adding); science (discussing changes observed when adding ingredients, mixing or baking); social/emotional skills (turn-taking, using words to express needs and feelings); and problem solving, inquiry and many more.
In addition to a weekly cooking session, children are offered arts and crafts and daily reading time in addition to physically active games.
A big concern among educators (and parents as well) is the downtime of summer allows kids to lose some of the academic gains they made in school in the recent academic year. This is especially true for children who don’t read regularly over the summer and spend a great deal of time playing video games or watching television.
The summer breakfast camp program in Whitehall and Coplay, a project of Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative, has ensured all kids in our community have the opportunity to stay nourished all summer — physically, mentally, socially and academically. The best part about it is they do this using everyday, ordinary experiences that also teach skills for life success.
Never underestimate the power of simplicity!
Editor’s note: Denise Continenza is the family and consumer sciences educator with Penn State Extension, Lehigh and Northampton counties.