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Hidden lessons for kids when making a science party cake

Written by Ben Newsome on April 3rd, 2016.      0 comments

Round, green science party cake with white 'happy birthday' & chemical formula writing around the side. There is a glass round bottom flask with red coloured water with pretend smoke on top of the cake, as well as a test tube too.
Kids love science party cakes!

Who doesn't love the look of a ferocious looking dinosaur cake or a volcano cake with bubbling lava coming out of the crater! 
It might sound a bit odd at first, but there are a variety of science learning outcomes when it comes to making a party cake. Beyond simply creating the classic image of a science scene, involving your kids in making the party cake allows them not only to explore their creativity but also the act of baking & decorating gives plenty of chances for you to slide in some science in too :)

Here's a small list of just some of the things you could talk about & do with your kids whilst making a party cake to remember:

 
  • Simply discussing what the cake might look like will quickly identify what your kids are interested in.

    a) So they want to make a rocket cake? Awesome! What a great time to talk about how rockets work and maybe make a film canister rocket or a tea bag rocket with them to keep up the excitement. This party cake is easily most popular when we run a space science party.

    ​b) Volcano cake is on the cards? Great! Maybe this is the time that you make the classic volcano experiment in your backyard and then read a kids science book on what causes volcanic eruptions. By far the most popular at our hands-on science parties, although it often is a winner at a dinosaur party too!

    Kids excited around a smoking volcano cake made out of chocolate   Dry ice fog coming out of a chocolate cake with blue candles   Volcano cake with dry ice fog pouring down the side. Plastic dinosaurs & trees surround the chocolate cake
    A variety of volcano cakes we've seen

    c) They're into the classic 'mad scientist image'? Why not discuss in plain language some of the real ways that scientists work; i.e. science is a methodical & logical way of testing variables to discover how the Universe actually works. Of course, no other scientist is celebrated in quite the Albert Einstein was... so, why not make a party cake homage to him!

    d) The kids are into Lego? Why not make a Lego cake? We've seen Lego party cakes with blocks of cake stacked together, a Lego mini-figure cake, even a Lego Technics cake. You could discuss with your kids why Lego forces you to plan ahead and creatively solve problems; to out this in action you could set them a building challenge to be finished by the time the cake has finished baking! Lately we've been seeing quite a few Minecraft cakes courtesy of the spectacularly successful game series. As an aside, quite a few people have also made Wall-E cakes to complement our Lego robotics parties too! If you don't want to go the massive effort of creating a Lego cake, you could simply get the kids to make little Lego scenes and put them on top of and around the party cake. Works a treat!

    Two chocolate cakes joined together with a Lego brudge and Lego minfigures
    Lego can join cakes together!

    e) Dinosaurs are the order of the day? What a perfect opportunity to talk about Australian palaeontology and then maybe do some dinosaur experiments as well! We've seen a variety of pretend fossil bones, pick axes & paintbrushes, prehistoric scenes and more. A great way to complement a dinosaur party, although it would be fun to make with the kids at any time :)

    Chocolate dinosaur party cake, with a palaeontoligst figurine looking over a dinosaur replica lying on it's side

    Have a roaring good time making a dinosaur cake!

    f) Danger and mayhem your kid's thing? Before making a radiation sign or a bio-hazard sign, why not talk about some of the risks that have been taken in the name of science so that we can enjoy our modern life. Think of the work done by the early pioneers in deep sea diving? What about Dr Marie Curie's work on radiation which sadly took her life from radiation poisoning? Or the extreme risk taken by early Astronauts or vulcanologists? These days things are much more controlled however it is still recognised that exploring the boundaries of human knowledge can still present dangers. Maybe turn your house into a science lab with these decorative ideas? Perhaps get the kids to put on PPE when slicing up their hazard sign party cake, or create a scene wear the scientist has their PPE on, or just simply have fun with the kids while creating a laboratory disaster in icing :)

    Scientist party cake wear the white cake has a scientist in full PPE adding chemicals to a bubbling beaker
    Scientist with full PPE made by Deliciously Yours

    g) Why not depict the instruments themselves? Bubbling beakers are easy to create with a bit of fairy floss coming out of opening. Whilst making the cake you could get the kids to carefully measure out the ingredients, explaining the importance of careful measurement in a laboratory and how to avoid parallax error.

    Pink beaker cake with fairy floss coming out of the opening
    Could you make this party cake?

    h) Biological science takes their fancy? Maybe this is a great time to break out the David Attenbourough documentaries whilst the cakes cooks! Besides this, why not introduce them to the variety of nature-based experiments or human body science projects you could run at home? It'll certainly get them thinking about their world. We've seen people create forest scenes, coral reefs and even the anatomy of a plant. One of the striking examples of a simple cake that 'grabs the eye' is the eye itself, great for a gross science party:)

    Eyeball cake surrounded by eyball cupcakes
    Would you make this eyeball cake? 

    i)... and the list goes on! 
    We've been running hundreds of 
    science parties every year since 2004 and one thing we've noticed is just how creative parents can be; we'd love to see what you might come up with too!
     
  • The act of making a cake forces kids to follow a procedure. This is not always thought of as a 'science outcome' but for science teachers it is a critical skill. Everything from assembling IKEA furniture to putting together a bicycle requires this skill, so why not give your kids every opportunity to practice this skill?
     
  • Creating coloured icing on your cake requires you to mix food colouring... why not have kids experiment with this themselves? You'd be amazed at some of the misconceptions kids carry in regards to how colours mix together and you could help them understand this process whilst getting the icing mixture ready!
     
  • Why not setup a variable test with your cake? In other words, change one part of the procedure and bake two cakes instead of one. Not only will your kids experience fairly testing a cake recipe, you just might stumble on a better recipe using the scientific method!
     
  • Sometimes the decorations around the cake give you a chance you explore chemistry & physics. When you make toffee you are really exploring properties of materials. If you add dry ice to a cake you can explain why the cold gases fall down the cake due to density.. plus the carbon dioxide will put out the candles themselves if they're placed below where the dry ice is bubbling!
Of course, you want to still have fun with your science party and you might not want to get "bogged down" with some of the ideas above... but remember your child is probably thinking the opposite in the lead up to a science party and so this is the perfect time to capture their attention. Science by stealth? Perhaps... but it certainly a fun way to get the kids engaged!

Happy party planning!

Ben

Ben Newsome
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