Slicing and sharing takes the cake

Children have the right instincts about cake. They’re usually very excited to have some for dessert, and so they should be. 

Not only is cake comforting and tasty, but as I’ll explain in this blog, it’s useful too!

Serving it is a great way to practise fine motor skills, to learn about sharing and even lay the groundwork for understanding fractions.

I was reminded of this during a recent autumnal weekend, when we marked a family celebration. There were many sweet and savoury treats on offer, but the centrepiece was a large circular cake. 

Of course, my six-year-old granddaughter Daisy wanted to be the one to serve the cake. 

Cake cutting with confidence

Adults can tend to think that it will be both easier and quicker if they cut and serve the cake themselves. However, allowing a child to help to serve the cake can offer many benefits. 

In Daisy’s case, it gave her an opportunity to practise her cutting skills, her hand-eye coordination, and precision control. It also represented an opportunity to enhance her independence.

Daisy has continued to have varied cooking and baking experiences at home, at her childminder’s house and on her visits to us. In doing so, she has become more confident at using various pieces of kitchen equipment safely, including using a knife.

She knows how to hold a knife with the correct grip: with her hand at the top of the handle and fingertips out of the way. She’s practised this grip, both when she’s eating her meals and when she’s baking. (Daisy likes to help with cutting soft butter and bananas for cakes.)

Having a quantity of some item, and being able to share it, is part of a child’s everyday life. A child might be playing with play dough and share it by giving a portion to a playmate.

Or (with some encouragement!) they might decide to share a large cookie, breaking it and giving their friend a chunk. Each time they are taking a whole item and breaking it into two pieces. 

Giving everyone a fair share

Back to the cake: cutting the large cake also gave Daisy an opportunity to develop some mathematical understanding. 

How to cut the cake? The cake is a whole piece and she has to give everyone some of it. 

Daisy counted how many people needed a serving of cake and, holding the knife with the correct grip, she chose to cut a wedge-shaped piece for each person. 

It didn’t matter that the wedges were cut into slightly different sizes. Daisy had cut the cake so that everyone in the family could have some to eat, including herself. She also had a piece left over. Maybe she could have some more cake later!

Cutting something with a geometric shape and sharing it is great preparation for learning about fractions. 

After enjoying my portion, I had the opportunity to talk with Daisy about the leftover slice of cake. We talked about the cake being whole before Daisy had cut it, and we talked about the shape of the pieces of cake that she cut. 

Next time we bake, maybe we’ll try the same sharing process with a rectangular traybake.

Cakes and learning opportunities come in all shapes and sizes!

Granny Smith says…

  • Having practical experiences of cutting something whole into parts will make it much easier for children to begin to understand fractions. It also gives them the appropriate language to describe fractions.
  • At Daisy’s developmental stage it is still better to talk about ‘sharing’ rather than ‘dividing’ a whole item. Division is a concept built on early foundational knowledge of sharing and will be introduced to her at school in the near future.

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