I love the King Arthur Flour Bake For Good initiative to get people baking not just for themselves but as a way to connect with loved ones, friends and community members. (Check out their blog post all about it!) Here is the story of how my husband has been doing just this with his elementary classroom community.
My husband Christian is a fifth grade teacher at Milton Elementary School in Milton, Vermont, and every day he and his students assemble and bake loaves of bread right in class using a bread machine. The first time he baked bread in his classroom was six years ago. Looking for new ways to connect with kids in his class that year, he took an old bread machine of mine to school, along with bags of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and some butter and milk. He used the King Arthur Flour recipe for “Easy As Can Be” white sandwich bread. He had his students help with measuring the ingredients and following the recipe to add them to the bread machine in the correct order. Over the next few hours the students listened to the machine churn, and peered through the window on top to see what mysterious transformation was taking place. In the last hour of the process, the heavenly aroma of baking bread filled their classroom and the hallways. Curious kids (and teachers!) from other classes began to pop in to see what was happening. His own students could barely wait to get to that loaf. Once it was out and just cool enough he and his kid sliced it up and enjoyed that bread together. It became part of the daily class routine for the rest of that school year, and for every class that has come in the years after!
He started that year with one bread machine, and as excitement for the fresh bread grew, he tracked down a second machine so he could bake two loaves per day. As those machines aged and wore out from daily use, replacement machines were donated to the classroom by our family members, colleagues, mothers of colleagues, and by students’ families! One year there were three machines running daily. He’s back to two loaves per day now, baking to share bread with his main class and the class he co-teaches.
Each loaf is shared by four students, with a new group of kids getting a turn each day. With every group my husband goes over the recipe with them, explaining the measurements and which ingredient is which. The kids are in charge of the measuring and adding ingredients to the pan, and the bread has become a much-anticipated part of their day.
The finished loaves are highly coveted: when students earn an “Ultimate Pass” (given for acts of community and kindness in the classroom) they can choose rewards like extra recess, a homework pass, lunch with the teacher… or an entire loaf of fresh-baked bread. My husband says the bread is by far the most popular reward!
I asked him why he thinks baking bread in his classroom has been such a hit. He says one reason is that for many kids it is their first experience baking bread from scratch. It is the first time they get to think about what goes into bread, and they have the realization that bread does not just come from a grocery store shelf. Once students see what it takes to bake a loaf, without even being asked they regularly bring in flour or butter or sugar from home to help keep the bread coming.
From an educational perspective, the students use math and analytical skills to think about measurements and proportions.
My husband shared that when the occasional loaf comes out less-than-perfect, it promotes discussion and problem-solving with the students to figure out why: did they add too much flour? Too much milk? (And no matter how less-than-perfect it is, they eat it anyway!)
He also feels that baking bread in class is a comforting process. Aromatherapy is shown to be a way to reduce stress and create a calm atmosphere, and what could be more soothing and homey than the scent of baking bread? We also know that some families struggle to provide enough food for their families, which means kids could come to school hungry. Sometimes the bread he bakes in class might be feeding kids who do not get enough to eat, and this in turn allows them to be available for learning.
My favorite part of this story has been hearing the ways that baking bread in the classroom has influenced and inspired kids and adults alike. His former students will often stop by to visit and they always want to know if he is still baking bread. (And they’re probably hoping they can score a slice!) It is a part of their class experience that they really enjoyed and remember. Last year the enthusiasm around the bread baking inspired another teacher in the building to teach students how to dry fruit. Most heartwarming of all is something that happened just this fall: when after experiencing the bread baking in the classroom one of the kids asked his mom to take him shopping on the weekend – to buy a bread machine to make fresh bread with his family at home.
These kids learn how to make bread, they experience the joy of baking together, of sharing something homemade. It brings comfort to the classroom, creates warm memories, and inspires them to keep on baking. I love that by baking bread at school with his students my husband is baking for good every day!