Cooking with Kids: 5 Tips for Decorating Gingerbread Houses with Kids

Baking and decorating gingerbread houses is a lot of fun for kids and grown ups alike.  This is probably one of my favorite activities to do with the girls--and has been since we made our very first attempt at gingerbread house decorating when my youngest was in elementary school.  While it may seem a bit daunting (and messy and stressful) to bake and decorate a gingerbread house with little ones--it can be done and it can be a lot of fun!  Today, I wanted to share a few tips to get your gingerbread baking and decorating off on the right path!

A Gingerbread House Isn't a 30-Minute Project. Even if you use a store-bought gingerbread house kit--you should plan to allow a bit of time for this project.  Cutting, baking and cooling gingerbread "building pieces" takes time.  Building the actual structures, even from a kit, takes time.  It is important that the structures dry at least a few hours before decorating so that the houses are little more sturdy to the touch.  And, of course, the kids will take a long time to decorate and add finishing touches.  If you are baking your own gingerbread--I suggest doing that a day or so before you plan to build and decorate.  That helps break the project into less stressful (tiring) pieces!  We tend to construct the houses during an evening and then set them aside to dry overnight--then decorate them the following day. 

Let the Kids Help with the Gingerbread House Designing and Baking.  If you are baking your own gingerbread--let the kids help with designing and making templates as well as the actual mixing, rolling, cutting and baking of the houses.  This is a great project for STEM or STEAM families.  Kids learn a lot about the engineering design process with this project--and can make these houses at a fairly young age with your help, of course.    If you are baking your own gingerbread houses--start with a tried and true recipe.  We generally use this recipe from Epicurious and follow much of their template advice--but, adjust our house dimensions and we skip the roof tiles.

Remember that Sometimes Things Break.  Or Crack.  Or Crumble.  I generally buy an extra kit to use for "spare" building materials if a wall or roof piece breaks or is cracked beyond icing repair.  If you are baking your gingerbread--you make need to bake another partial batch if something breaks and isn't able to be mended.  Having said that--remember that little hands are sometimes rough hands.  They tend to push too hard or pull too quickly.  If something small breaks during construction or decoration--it offers a great time to help the kids get creative in repair work.  Maybe adding icing glue will do the trick--or maybe the roof is simply too heavy and needs a candy cane prop.   No matter the break, crack or crumble--use this as a teaching opportunity. 

Keep the Gingerbread House Decorating Simple.  Depending on the age and abilities of your child, you should try to keep the decorating detail age appropriate.  While perfectly spaced and placed candies--and intricate frosting designs are lovely--a younger child simply may not have those motor skills.  Make sure that, if this is a cooking with kids project--that your expectations are adjusted to their ability.  Also--you don't need to run out and buy a ton of candy to use as decor--you may still have some leftover candy from Halloween or classroom parties that will work wonderfully on your gingerbread house!

Take a lot of Pictures.  Your child will be proud of his or her creation.  Really proud.  The actual gingerbread house will need to be thrown away after the season--but, photos of the memories may be kept forever.  It is so much fun to look back and see how the kids (and their decorating skills) grew from holiday to holiday!  

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