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Lessons from Baking a "Bunny Cake"  10.20.2014

Posted by: Naila Bolus

Naila Bolus is President & CEO of Jumpstart.

Bunny Cakes is a comical story of sibling bonding, perseverance, and celebration. It’s a joy to read at any age, and it’s an even richer experience if you can explore the themes in the book through conversation, art, or even baking your very own “angel surprise cake with raspberry fluff icing.”

My younger daughters, identical twins Willa and Josette, want to run a bakery when they grow up (which they have decided to name “Twinkies”), so they jumped at the chance to bake a “bunny cake.” Like Max and Ruby in the story, they encountered a series of set-backs. First there were multiple egg shells in the egg whites. It turns out that 1 ½ cups of egg whites requires breaking a lot of eggs. Then there were exhausted hands and wrists. The recipe calls for sifting the flour, sugar and salt together five times! Lastly, we discovered that my tube pan was missing. It took some imagination, and some determination, to create our own tube pan out of a spring-form round and a biscuit cutter stuck in the middle.

Baking, like reading, brings people together and sparks conversation. My daughters and I found endless topics to discuss – from retelling funny stories of past baking calamities, to testing ideas about how to solve the challenges we encountered. Language development is a key ingredient in reading proficiency and ultimately school success, and the more we engage our children in what Jumpstart National Early Education Council member Kathy Hirsh-Pasek calls “conversational duets,” the deeper their knowledge of words and word meanings.

Research tells us that children living in low-income families hear many fewer words than their wealthier peers. By the age of four, that gap is as large as 30 million words. These facts have created urgency in the early learning field and a swell of efforts to “bridge the word gap.”

Last week I was privileged to attend a meeting at the White House focused on this very topic. Convened by Too Small to Fail (a joint initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation) and several federal agencies, the meeting highlighted new research and campaigns to encourage talking, reading, and singing to children beginning at birth.

I was thrilled to be part of the conversation because this is Jumpstart’s sweet spot. Jumpstart’s curriculum provides an intentional focus on vocabulary development. Session plans include target vocabulary words and age appropriate definitions as well as guidance for Corps members on introducing and deepening children’s knowledge of new words. Corps members are trained to support children’s vocabulary knowledge through informal conversations and the use of rich language.

These strategies are at the heart of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record® campaign. Tomorrow, when millions of people come together to read Bunny Cakes, they will celebrate the development of language and literacy, cultivate curiosity, and share the joy of reading. Jumpstart’s reading guide and activities help to bring the story to life and deepen children’s experience.

Willa and Josette loved baking the angel surprise cake with raspberry fluff icing. Despite our setbacks, or maybe because of them, our cake turned out as beautifully as Max and Ruby’s. “Baking the cake reminds you of the book,” the girls told me. “It’s fun to make it with family…and it tastes delicious!” 

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