The marshmallow test

There are so many reasons to bake with the children in my school and the least of them is to have something yummy for snack! (We don’t bake with marshmallows, but be patient, we will get to the marshmallows later…)

Not only do children get the enjoyment of creating something, they also learn about the steps in baking, the ingredients and the measures (1 cup versus 1 teaspoon, etc.). Here are some other things the children learn and do:

  • There is a bowl for the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients.
  • You can make a sandcastle with the brown sugar but not the white sugar.
  • Vanilla smells wonderful but tastes awful.
  • If you put each ingredient away after it is added, you will keep track of what you have already added to the mix.
  • The children also get the practice of stirring all of the ingredients, whether it is slowly for the dry ingredients, or vigorously for the margarine/sugar/egg batter.
  • The children take turns adding ingredients and stirring the batter. We always go clockwise around the work surface.
  • If batter gets on their fingers – no licking! They have to wash their hands.

The most important lesson in baking, I believe, is self-regulation – one of the hottest topics in education these days. What is self-regulation? The ability to inhibit movement when needed, wait one’s turn, make decisions on one’s own, act when appropriate – in a nutshell, to be able to regulate one’s own behaviour appropriately.

OK – so you have been patiently waiting to hear about the marshmallows…

The Stanford marshmallow experiment, introduced in the late 1960’s, is a test devised to see if children can delay gratification. In a test situation, a child is given one marshmallow and told that he/she can either have this one now, or wait and get two when the researcher returns to the room 20 minutes later. The researcher leaves the room and watches to see whether the child eats the marshmallow or waits and receives a second marshmallow. It is proposed that whether the child has enough self control to wait for the second marshmallow is a good predictor of future academic achievement and success in adult life. An interesting article on this in The New Yorker:

For a child, waiting his or her turn or inhibiting movement (no jumping around, sticking one’s hand in the bowl to test the batter, etc.) are very hard to do – believe me! The children in my school – ages 2 1/2 to 6 – are wonderful at this, even if they don’t do this at home!

And, at the end, our patience is rewarded with fresh, yummy cookies or muffins. Well worth the wait.

For all of our recipes, go to the Recipes page of this blog.



About Teri Courchene

Instructor at U of T School of Continuing Studies, Math tutor. Education: CSC, MEd (OISE), AMI Montessori Diploma (FME), MA Economics (Queen's), BA Economics (UWO)
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