I'm feeling all Hallowe'en-ish today. It's grey and rainy outside, I've got the lights on at midday and my feet are freezing. I want to think about nice things like bright orange pumpkins, spicy ginger cake and costumed kids on a sugar rush. Well, maybe not that last bit.
Yesterday I spent the morning decorating tiny Hallowe'en themed cakes with Year 3 at our local primary school. There were 62 kids in all, across two classes. I don't know if you've ever been around that many 7 year olds, but it gets pretty loud. Very funny but at a high volume.
The most important class was the one Miss B was in, obviously. She'd begged me to do volunteering with them and was bouncing on her toes with the excitement of it all as she helped me set up. It was lovely.
I'd decided on two mini cupcakes per child - one with a spider made of sweets, the other a mummy. The mummy was a twofer - both seasonal and linking thematically to the Ancient Egyptians unit the class is doing right now. (I know, there is nothing Egyptian about a small cake iced to look like a cartoon mummy, but if it gives the class a curriculum tick I'm all for it.) The kids were very chuffed with both.
The previous evening had been a frenzy of baking the 130 cakes, cutting up strips of jelly sweets for spider legs because the supermarket was sold out of strawberry laces, dipping half the cakes in an orange glace icing and assembling all the things we'd need. I was flagging by the end of it all, and got less and less tolerant of my kids' repeated requests to eat 'any leftover Minstrels I might have. 1) I won't know how many Minstrels are left over until after the workshop and 2) If anyone deserves to scoff them, it's me.
I'm such a mean mum.
I set up lovely little workstations on the table, complete with a sample cake so they could see how the cake could look. Everything was counted out carefully. The was primarily to stop the first group from surreptitiously eating the Minstrel bodies and jelly legs I would need for the later groups, but also because it pleased me to have everything ready so neatly. The neatness lasted under a minute.
My first error was judging what the class could do by what my daughter can do. She's been messing about with icing and baking in the kitchen with me since she was a toddler. I hadn't realised how adept she'd become compared with some of her peers. Confronted with a rolling pin, some icing and icing sugar she gets on with rolling it out. Some of the kids couldn't use a rolling pin and others were too worried about touching icing sugar with their bare hands.
Another complication was the open window the teacher wanted to keep the room cool. My tables were right next to it, and the cold air caused my bowl of melted chocolate to keep setting. The only way to heat it up was by putting it in microwave in the kitchen at the end of the corridor. The utterly lovely Teaching Assistant, Ms Lamb, did a few quick dashes down there for me.
A surprising number of the kids had difficulty following instructions. I had already iced the spider cakes. I put a blob of (mostly) melted chocolate on each one and the kids were to use it as the glue holding the (vegetarian and Halal) jelly legs in place and pop a Minstrel body on top. I thought this was a pretty easy one, but there were about 6 kids that needed to be shown what to do 4 or 5 times. On the plus side, no one stuck his fist in the big bowl of chocolate, although we had a near miss!
Added to all this, of course there were the high spirits and excitement of doing something out of the ordinary and the chance to mess about with sweets. This was VERY exciting and cool. We also needed to talk about who had won the Great British Bake Off final, who they had hoped for, who their mums and siblings had wanted to win, whether they themselves had every baked, or helped someone bake, or knew someone who could bake, or had ever entered a bakery. I had to laugh at a loads of the things the just *had* to tell me. Shyness is not much of an issue in Year 3.
All this meant that my time in the first class was extremely chaotic. I spent 75 minutes standing, bent over 3 tables at knee height trying to help 6 kids simultaneously. The kids had a super time but I know the teacher was aware of the time slipping by and I kept trying to speed up. By the time I came to straighten up I knew I'd done myself no good at all. This morning just walking down the stairs hurt. Silly me.
The kids' cakes did look super. They were so proud, it was lovely.
By the time I went through to the second class I'd had a complete rethink.Prior to calling for each group of 6, I rolled all the sugarpaste out and cut it into little 'mummy bandage' strips, then made the little eye strips too. Rolling little balls of icing between their fingers to make eyeballs had proved a challenge for the first group. I laid out a 'spider kit' for each one - iced cake, jelly legs and chocolate body - to collect from the end of the table so I could sit down and help rather than bob about so much. I asked the teacher to give me 2 minutes between each group to set up the next one.
And yes, there will be a next time. I've promised to do five more sessions this year.