I enjoy baking bread. I like every part of the process, from feeding my sourdough starter and building dough, to slowly fermenting and developing the gluten, shaping loaves, the actual baking, and of course eating. There’s nothing quite like fresh bread, and I firmly believe that the world would be a darker and less interesting place without it.
Luckily my kids enjoy eating the bread I bake, and sometimes they want to help me. Last week we had such a day, when all three of the older kids wanted to be a part of the process. I fed my starter the night before, and the following morning they helped me measure and mix my dough. We were using a recipe from one of my favorite bread books, Tartine Bread. It’s simple, as most good bread recipes are. Flour, water, salt and yeast are transformed with time and gentle handling until the loaves are ready to be shaped and baked. We mixed the dough by hand, though only two of my helpers were willing to get their hands dirty, and that dropped to one after the initial mixing. He was more than happy to practice the art of gently stretch-and-folding the dough every half an hour, dropping whatever he was doing to run and help. This part of the process took about four hours, allowing the gluten to slowly develop and strengthen the dough.
Eventually we shaped the loaves and preheated a baking stone in the oven while the loaves proofed in baskets, and then we were finally able to bake. It was an all-day process, though most of that time was spent doing other things while keeping half an ear open for the timers so that we could return to the bread-making. Sandwiches on freshly baked bread for dinner made it all worthwhile.
This is Unschooling in action. I didn’t coerce or force any of the kids to participate, and when one of them was done, I let them go. My one helper who stayed through the entire process did a great job. He asked questions constantly while we worked and as a result he’s starting to get the hang of judging the fermentation of the dough, and how to stretch and shape it gently. He can converse with some knowledge about water and flour ratios, how yeast functions, how gluten develope and dough rises. Baking bread is a collision of two of his favorite things. Science, and eating. This is how kids learn, by exploring the world around them and baking bread.