Thursday, January 31, 2008

Confectionery Conundrum in the Classroom

We recently had a steady flow of children's birthdays. Everyone of the children who celebrated their special day brought cupcakes to school to share with the other students and teachers. Due to our no-nuts school policy, almost all birthday cupcakes are homemade. These classic birthday confections arrive topped with mounds of frosting. After eating a batch of birthday cupcakes, the head of our school noticed that my classroom was "full of energy." My assistant Jill and I explained that they had just finished eating their double-frosted special snack.

Later, Jill and our school's head discussed the aftermath of eating the extra sweet treats on both the children's appetites for their lunch and their ability to sit still during lunch. In the next all school newsletter it was stated that cupcakes without frosting was now the school's preference.

As my own childhood memories of sharing cake with friends tugged at my heart, I began to think maybe a l lesson in cake decorating was needed to be added to my already lengthy list of Practical Life exercises. It wasn't long before I had decided on the materials and the steps needed. I asked the head of our school and the other teachers what they thought of my frosting alternative. The possibility of a child carefully decorating his/her own cupcakes for their fellow students to enjoy instead of wandering throughout the classroom telling other children again and again that it was their birthday was eagerly embraced.

The lesson would be broken down into two completely separate presentations. The first would be on dusting confectionery sugar into a bowl. That would allow the children to acquire the basic skills needed. The second would involve non-frosted cupcakes and a few baker's stencils. Ultimately, the birthday child would use the confectionery sugar tray to decorate his/her cupcakes during the morning three hour work period. In the end, party baked goods would be carefully embellished with both a sweet taste and a decorative design.

A couple of days ago, I assembled all of the materials for the first tray and gave a large group presentation. Before I put out this work, I removed the flour sifting tray. I decided that due to the similarity in appearance of flour and confectionery sugar, I should provide an opportunity for the children to distinguish between the two. I talked to them about how often one thing will look like another. I used sugar and salt as an example. They immediately made a mental comparison and agreed with my example. Next, I had my assistant Jill collect 20 straw coffee-stir-sticks from the staff lounge. I carefully dipped one end of an individual stick into the confectionery sugar. A very small amount was collected on the end of the stick. I then walked around the gathered circle of children offering each the opportunity to accept or refuse the small taste of sugar. Of course, each child disposed of their stick after they consumed the sample. The children seemed pleased with its sweetness.

When I sat down and gave the presentation, I encouraged the children to pay close attention to the confectionery sugar as it fell into the bowl from the hand strainer. I also asked that they think of words to describe the descending white sugar. Immediately hands were raised. "It's like falling snow," a child stated while all of the others agreed.

I always remind the children when I am doing a presentation, whether individual or group, that the lesson, like the work itself, is never complete until the materials are cleaned and returned to the shelf. This includes the table on which the work was done.

I am still in love with the cloth-puff lesson my AMI trainer, Mrs. Fernando, gave for dusting a table. Using a square cloth, you fold the four corners into the center and then repeat. Next you grab the folded cloth and pull the center of the underside out and make a puff. This is used like the sponge in table washing. The child slides the cloth-puff across the table left to right. Next, when all of the dust, flour, soil, and, in this case, confectionery sugar is in a small pile at the lower right hand corner of the table, the child uses the puff to sweep it into the cup of their hand. Holding the cloth-puff over the collected pile in their hand, the child walks to the trash barrel, shakes out their hand and the cloth. They then fold the cloth into a small square and return it to its own tray. The youngest children seem to master the puff. The 5 and 6 year olds would rather skip this part. I marvel at it and love to see it done properly as the child in this series of photos is doing.

The child spoons the sugar into the strainer. The child softly taps the side of the strainer dusting the bowl with confectionery sugar.

The child spoons the sugar into the smaller bowl. The child has used the small bowl with the spout to pour all of the sugar back into the red container.

The child makes a cloth-puff . The child cleans the table with the cloth-puff.

This is the next step in the work; sugar dusting cupcakes.

I will add stencils later for m
ore detailed decorative work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I realize that you posted this months ago, but I only recently stumbled on your blog. I love it.

This is one of the most perfect ideas I have seen. I hope to use it one day.