Messy Lessons: 4 Pieces of Advice for Cooking with Kids


Our learner Emily and I share a passion for food and cooking. It’s fun for us to share stories about enjoying food with our families, but even more fun to get in the kitchen and enjoy creating something yummy together.

In the kitchen, we embody equal parts mad scientist and curious child. Baking has been a favorite hobby for several years now, and I am thankful to work in a place where I can share my crazy kitchen experiments with learners. Here are some things I’ve learned from cooking with the kids here at Armada:

  1. Embrace Failure
    For example, last week when making a cake with Emily, I was so excited to see how my newly bought silicone pan would work that, immediately upon taking it out of the oven, I turned the cake over onto a plate and tried to pop it out of the reversible pan.
    Any seasoned baker knows to let the cake cool before trying to remove it, reversible pan or no. I know this too. But that day I re-learned the truth my mom told me as a teen, breaking the cake in front of a mercifully forgiving learner. She, too, learned the lesson, not through an older chef’s lecturing on the do’s and don’ts of the kitchen, but through direct experience with a collaborative mentor.
  2. Connect it to Other Interests
    Emily and I share an interest in French culture too. One day I took Emily and another learner on a walk to visit the  French Cultural Center, and while in the library, we were naturally drawn to the cooking section. We took a few pastry cookbooks back with us, and after pouring over the mouth-watering images for a few days, Emily asked if we could make a jelly roll cake, or gâteau roulé, en français.
    At that time, she had also been talking about her jam recipe, acquired over Chinese New Year when visiting relatives, as well as an idea to visit a U-Pick farm outside of Beijing and collect strawberries. Helping her connect the dots between these three project ideas, we planned a week-long project in which Emily went out to pick fruit at the farm, Emily taught us how to make jam, and I helped her translate the French recipe, shop for ingredients and make our first gâteau roulé.
    Great lessons in communication, respect, planning skills and responsibility cropped up along the way, as well as the expected mess-ups-turned-learning-opportunities in the kitchen. Like the ice cream cake, this experiment was a great success in the ways that matter, even if the cake broke apart as we tried to roll it.


  3. Work as partners with a great deal of humility and patience toward one another. Giving the kids the space to take ownership of the baking projects creates a wonderful learning opportunity for them.
  4. Be Open-Minded

    Undoubtedly I know more about baking techniques than 10-year-old Emily, but by no means does that make me a flawless chef. Sometimes I offer my advice, but sometimes I keep quiet and let her find the way that works best for her. Sometimes I get great ideas from the kids’ more open-minded experiments. And generally, we end with something delicious, even if it turns out sticky, sloppy, crooked, broken, or otherwise imperfect. What better inspiration can you find to try, try again?

I hope this helps you move fearlessly into a messy kitchen with your kids! I sure as heck love the yummy results.
Keep experimenting,

Ryan Campeau

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