In the early childhood classroom of Urban Oak School in Cleveland Heights the children know about magic. Fairies gesture to them through transitions, lyrical songs guide their activities, and transformations are observed in the enchanting art of baking bread.
Every Tuesday, the baking ritual begins with the gathering of students to the table. As little washed hands await, the teacher, Miss Mary, sprinkles flour in each child’s spot and places rolls of warm dough in their hands. “Open up your little oven,” Mary sings as she conjures magical imagery.
Bread baking is a creative and delicious way to introduce age-appropriate developmental skills to the preschoolers. Fine motor skills, patience, and following simple directions are all key building blocks to learning. Baking is slow, and in the pauses, the children forge relationships with their teacher and with each other.
As the Tuesday rhythm continues, it is a quiet time in the classroom with simple imagery of the natural world spoken softly to the students as they begin to imagine what they might sculpt with their dough. Miss Mary demonstrates smelling the dough and the children exercise their senses as they guess the ingredients. Next they pat, fold, chop, roll, and knead, stretching and strengthening muscles in their arms and hands.
As with the many enchanting children’s stories of baking, such as The Gingerbread Boy and Thunder Cake, these little bakers, too, begin to create a story. On the pan they may place a tiny snail, an arching rainbow, or a plump pumpkin. Oral literacy takes hold and vocabularies blossom as images and plot develop. Not only do we see pre-reading skills being put into place, but teacher Miss Mary takes the opportunity to foster imaginary play and set the stage for developing self-control and self-regulation skills for years to come.
To holdover the children waiting as bread rises and bakes, Miss Mary keeps them busy with language arts lessons, crafts, and tidying dishes. The smell of warm yeast wafts through the school and a subtle excitement stirs.
Finally, the bread arrives as the children plead hunger. Miss Mary passes butter and honey, and together they recite blessings and light a candle before biting into their warm rolls. The Tuesday snack has created a community experience of cooperation, a nurturing tradition of whole ingredients, a sensory exercise, and finally a bit of oven magic that left a spell of contentment over this young classroom.
Urban Oak School is Cleveland’s only school inspired by the Waldorf philosophy, which began in 1919 in Germany and focuses on students learning through practical, hands-on experiences and making creativity central to curriculum. For more information, visit UrbanOakSchool.org or call 216.571.4676.