Americans enjoy over 2 billion cookies a year or an average of 300 cookies per person annually.1 Not only are there countless cookie cookbooks—books dedicated solely to cookie recipes—there are countless Christmascookie cookbooks. Besides delighting taste buds, however, cookies can serve as a delightfully educational unit of study. And what better time to study it than at Christmas?
The English word cookie comes from the Dutch koekje, which means “little cake.”2 These treats that we use as snacks, or stand alone desserts and consider a destination, were once just a small part of a journey to something else. Cookies began as oven regulators, literally little cakes to test temperatures. The earliest “cookies” are thought to date back to 7th Century Persia A.D. when luxurious cakes were being made in one of the first countries to cultivate sugar. These were merely test cakes, as it was better to use a little batter to check an oven than to waste an entire large cake.
Begin your unit learning about the history of cookies through the years. (The websites cited below are great places to start.) You’ll find that America’s favorite cookie, the delicious and infamous chocolate chip cookie, came about through an accident at the Toll House Restaurant in Massachusetts. As you learn about this happy accident, it would be a good time to add some geography to your unit with the book All in Just One Cookie by Susan E. Goodman. This book takes children around the world to learn where the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies come from. Add a small journaling assignment where children think of a time when they experienced a “happy accident,” when something didn’t go as planned, but turned out to be good anyway.
Continue your social studies and language studies by learning the words for cookie in other languages and cultures. In England and Australia, they’re biscuits. Italy has biscotti, Spain galletas. Germans call themkeks, and they even have a name specifically for Christmas cookies—Platzchen. Of course, bake, bake, bake! And eat, eat, eat!
For the most part, it’s up to you and your excited children which cookies you’ll make. There is one batch of cookies, however, that I specifically suggest you make during this unit, and that is thumbprint cookies. Prior to making the cookies, get an inkpad and let everyone experiment with their fingerprints. Make little Christmas pictures by making people or animals out of your fingerprints. Talk about how everyone’s fingerprints are different from everyone else’s. Next take those fingers and thumbs to the cookie dough. As you make the cookies, talk about how each person is unique, and how even with all the many people in the world, Heavenly Father and Jesus know each one of us personally. President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us.”3 And just like Jesus had a mission and role to fill that was specifically His, each of us has a mission to complete as well. While there are certainly future events pertaining to each person’s life mission, many elements are in affect now. Learn that our missions in life are now, with each person having a “unique set of gifts, a unique set of challenges, and there are specific needs in the world that the Lord wants us to respond to now.”4 When you’re done with the pictures and cookies, add a journaling assignment: “What My Fingerprint Means to Me.”
Now, the act of baking cookies is automatically mathematical in measuring ingredients, but you can do more than the obvious. This would be a good time to teach or review not only fractions but systems of measurement and conversions. You can rely on learning by doing, or you can add some extra activities. Get going with Gallon Man (or Gallon Guy or Measurement Man). Make it a game using (or creating your own) materials like Merry Measurement and Cookie Sums, seasonally festive and educational, from Flap Jack Educational Resources. You can even add music to the mix by choosing catchy tunes on YouTube about measurement.
Baking cookies also lends itself to a lesson in following directions. If you can stand it, let your kids experiment with the order in which they add ingredients to see if it really makes a difference. Try substitutions. This is also a perfect time to let kids invent their own recipes. Have a cookie creating contest, with the stipulation that all new recipes must be written out and part of the test is how clearly the directions are written. You could also do cooking shows and practice speech and presentation.
Experimentation is science, and yes, there is science in baking cookies! It’s called Chemistry. You might want to learn about the chemistry of cookies before or after experimenting (or both).5
And now for treasured reading. Believe it or not, there are some fantastic cookie books out there that aren’t cookbooks. Amy Krouse Rosenthall has written a wonderful series that teaches important concepts, traits, and characteristics through the medium of cookies. Titles include Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons; One Smart Cookie: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Years and Beyond; Sugar Cookies: Sweet Little Lessons on Love; Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons. These are brilliant! Read them again and again around the table while you sample your cookies together.
Last but most definitely not least, is the lesson of the unit to tie it all up and make it meaningful. Read together The Gift of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus’ Birth by Dandi Daley Mackall. Make your own Nativity cookies, either by purchasing cookie cutters, or by drawing your own silhouette shapes on paper to use as a stencil to cut out of sugar or gingerbread dough. Let your children tell the story of Jesus’ birth with them and then take some to others to share the true meaning of Christmas.
Because of the saturation of senses, the smells and tastes of food leave distinct impressions. Finish your unit with a final journaling activity exploring the importance of traditions and the role that food plays in it. It would be appropriate for you to share your own childhood memories of cookies at Grandma’s or other fond recollections of traditions involving food. Children could even contact extended family members and collect their memories, making a volume of “Family Christmas Traditions and Recipes” to give as a gift for this or a future Christmas.
Merry Christmas! May your hearts be warm, your hands busy, and your heads full of newfound knowledge to ponder and bless.
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