The other week, my son wanted to know how bread was made. After many trips to the supermarket, a lot of snack sessions in places like the French Baker and Sonja’s and Bread Talk, he was curious about the process enough to ask me to teach him. He made sure to remind me daily to buy all we needed: yeast, flour, baking soda, sugar, oil, salt, and milk. (We were going for a basic yeast & milk loaf from a recipe I’d learned as a kid.)
There are many lessons a child can learn from breadmaking. Unlike baking cookies, there’s a lot of waiting involved — something that a preschooler has a hard time dealing with! I explained the process would take a total of 3 hours, which to him was a lifetime compared to the 30 minutes it takes to bake our chocolate cookies, from bowl to oven to plate.
He agreed to wait. And so we began.
Mixing the ingredients was the first step. I let him measure out each one to make the dough. “It’s important to follow the recipe properly when we bake,” I said, stressing the importance of taking things slow and deliberately measuring the right quantities, or the bread wouldn’t come out right. And so, we dissolved the yeast in a bit of boiling water; we measured the flour, the milk, the salt, the sugar, and I let him mix the mixture until he “felt tired.”
At this point we were only less than ten minutes into the process, but I took over since the dough was coming together and a bit challenging for him to mix. At least with my son, he shows that he is willing and eager to learn about things that interest him. Teaching him about the dough rising due to the yeast; the step of kneading the dough to let air in (which would make the bread soft); the second “rise” to let the bread set: I saw that he appreciated each step.
Patience and the process. If there is anything I want my son to know when he is learning about the things around him (the food he eats, where and how his clothes are made, his toys, etc.), it’s that nothing comes about without someone putting the hard work into it.
“It’s easy to eat our bread every morning when we buy it from the supermarket,” I explained. “But can you imagine how hard bakers work to make us our bread each day, so that we will just have an easy time eating it?”
The baking session was meant to drive home that point: Patience and the process pay off with a yummy ending. He understood it, and after tasting the fruit of his labors (and waiting through the 2 and a half hour process of letting the dough rise, kneading it and letting it rise again), he was able to enjoy his bread more. He had his first slice plain and warm, and the next with some eggs later on that day.
In teaching my son to bake a loaf of bread, I also learned a couple of lessons myself, mostly about my son and the way we’ve decided to let him learn things. I related to him how the yeast “wakes up” the other ingredients for the dough, how the yeast “eats” the sugars in the dough while it “sleeps”, creating the bubbles in the dough that make our bread soft and yummy.
He picked up well on it, but I think it will be good for us to bake some more to reinforce the lesson. But I find that he initiating the lesson made it so much more meaningful a learning moment to him. It is this “meaningful learning” that I cherish during these unschooling episode we’re in. In the past year, he’s picked up on quite a few things, like writing sentences on his own, using inventive spelling (starting January 2015), creating his own “superhero” stories, using mini sketchpads, telling time to the hour, and reading level 1 “I Can Read” readers, and the Kindergarten sight reading list, all on his own and enjoying them so much that we often buy two more copies each time we head to the bookstore (which is often)! Much like a lump of dough left to rise and expand, so is Vito’s knowledge and awareness of the world around growing gradually.
It’s not so much that he knows how to read and write. Of course I’m happy (and relieved!) that he does.
But what is most important is that he stays hungry, stays curious. (See what I did there? #stevejobsreference) It’s that his mind expands each time he learns something new, and hopefully, so does his awareness of the people and places and situations that shape his worldview.
I hope that he keeps on being hungry to learn. Not so much about how to study — not yet, anyway — but how to ask more questions, how to delve deeper into a topic that fascinates him (which today, was the skeleton), how to never stop expounding on what he knows. Just like the yeast that “gobbles” up sugars and expands the dough in the loaves we make, I hope Vito will keep on gobbling up these learning moments and grow wiser, deeper as a person. I remind myself to never tire of his constant questions and to see them as coming from a little mind that wants to get bigger and bigger, curiouser and curiouser.
May I never be a reason for him to want to stop being the inquisitive, sometimes naughty, but the always observant sponge of a learner that he is. May I have the patience to enjoy the process he is going through, because this is also a life lesson that I will be learning for the rest of my life.