One of our favorite family workshops here at the Children’s Museum of NH is making and decorating gingerbread houses. This past weekend, we welcomed 34 families – some with grandparents, cousins and friends – to this annual holiday tradition. Never does our classroom smell so sweet as when filled with the aroma of baked gingerbread. And if you want to see smiles, it is amazing what a table full of colorful decorations and baggies full of icing can do.
Although you will have to wait until 2013 to make a gingerbread house with us, here are our top five tips for creating a similar fun experience at home:
1. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as building a full-sized gingerbread house. For younger children, you can start simple with constructing small houses, or anything else their imaginations come up with using graham crackers. Another great no-bake idea – decorate ice cream sugar cones to make a forest full of trees!
2. If you are using candy decorations, expect that kids will want to eat them while they decorate. Serve a healthy snack of cut fruit or veggies with dip before you even think of taking out the candy. Even serving a small portion of a sweet treat while they are decorating, such as our choice of a simple sugar cookie and apple cider, keeps the desire to munch on candy at bay.
3. Think outside of the box when choosing decorations. Many cereals that you might already have on hand have interesting colors, textures and shapes. Waffle pretzels can make interesting windows and doors. Dried fruit, shredded coconut and snack treats you already have at home can all make great decorations without breaking the bank.
4. Icing matters, especially when building 3-D objects like houses. Regular frosting that you purchase or make does not stiffen fast enough or get hard enough to glue your creations together. Our favorite recipe that has the added benefit of drying like concrete is: 2 pounds of confectioner’s sugar, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar and 6 egg whites. Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer for 5 – 7 minutes until stiff peaks form. Instead of buying expensive pastry bags, a plastic sandwich bag with the corner snipped works well to spread your frosting.
5. It’s all about having fun together! Will your children care about creating a symmetrical design or have the willpower to resist the urge to taste while they create? Probably not. Will it be messy? Certainly yes, but once dry the icing is easy to sweep or wipe up.
We hope you’ve been inspired by these tips and photos from our recent Gingerbread Workshop to try this project at home. Happy Holidays!