Kid Insight

What’s so great about…baking?

How including kids in baking endeavors can actually provide them with valuable learning opportunities.
January 25, 2016

By Molly Austin

Including a child in the cooking or baking process can be daunting. It’s undoubtedly more time-consuming and messier than solo, grown-up culinary efforts. And adults often struggle to choose a kid-friendly recipe that’s more challenging than Easy-Bake and less frustrating than a seven-layer cake.

Despite these challenges, including kids in baking endeavors can provide them with valuable learning opportunities. The most obvious benefits fall under math and science skills, practicing cooperation and social skills, and learning to follow directions. The lesser known, but equally important, benefit is fostering and practicing planning. Kids plan when they follow a recipe in a specific order with the end goal of getting a dish to turn out properly. Planning is a crucial part of cognitive development, under the umbrella of the development of self-regulation and executive function.

In fact, executive function and self-regulation are the mental skills that give us the ability to multi-task, shift attention, focus and plan. They’re controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain, one of the last areas to fully develop. The first signs of the development of executive function and self-regulation occur towards the end of the first year of life, when a baby is able to keep something in mind (i.e., a desirable toy, her parents’ iPhone) without being distracted. These skills continue to develop well into adulthood, and express themselves in the form of organization, time management and focus.

The process of baking and helping kids understand the result of following steps in a specific order is a great way to support the development of planning and executive function. By allowing children to see the cause and effect of what happens when you follow instructions in a certain order to achieve an outcome, you’re helping them develop their self-regulation skills. In the case of baking, dumping ingredients into a bowl leads to lumpy sludge. Measuring, pouring, mixing and heating achieve a more desirable outcome—brownies!

Many kids already have the propensity to cook and bake, and are excited by shows like Cupcake Wars, Chopped and MasterChef Junior. To increase kids’ understanding of following steps and planning, these shows could include on-screen recipes and checklists that track with contestants as they are working. Non-cooking shows could also include planning and clearly breaking down the process for kids. In the toy realm, kids cooking and craft kits should include more of the cause-and-effect of the process (i.e. “Bake for 20 minutes. Baking any longer causes moisture to leave your brownies, so they won’t be gooey!”).

Not only will this help kids follow directions and regulate their actions through planning, but it will also make their creative ventures successful and satisfying—not to mention potentially delicious.

Molly Austin is a senior analyst at Insight Kids, a passionate team of business strategists and developmental experts who spend their waking hours pondering and communicating timeless truths and timely trends. Through innovative qualitative and quantitative market research and consulting, they bring the voice of the child to the creative process, helping their clients create products and experiences that meet kids where they are. To connect with Insight Kids, please email, or check out

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