Making apple pies is a fall tradition I have with my preschool classes, and it is a well loved tradition the students look forward to every year. Students get to make their own free form apple pie from start to finish. Having done this a few times with my students, I have a few tips to share.
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Making free form apple pies is one of my favorite activities that I do with my preschoolers. I look forward to it all during September and October, and the students patiently await the day where we spend the morning baking. From rolling out the dough to measuring and mixing ingredients and shaping the pies, my preschoolers take on full ownership of making the apple pies and are so proud of the finished product. Of course, the best part is adding a small dollop of home made whipped cream and munching down the sweet, seasonal goodness.
To make apple pies with preschoolers, there are some important tips and tricks everyone should know beforehand.
Make it as much about the process as the product.
The fun of making free form apple pies with a preschool class is slowing down and enjoying each and every step. Allow the children to take on as much of the work as possible. This ownership is what will make it memorable for them and meaningful to their education. Allowing the students to participate in as much of the process as possible will help them associate the experience with other knowledge they have about apples, fall, and baking.
Do prepare some things in advance.
I know, didn’t I just say to allow the students to do most of the work? I did, but there are some things that are best left to an adult to help things run more smoothly. For example, it’s smart to make the pie dough in advance. Pie dough is difficult to make, and requires refrigeration before use. So, make it in advance, either yourself or the previous day with the children. However, expect it to take at least 30 minutes to make with preschoolers.
Also, do some of the prep work, yourself, in advance. I set out all the ingredients for the pies on the kitchen counter before my preschoolers arrived. I mixed together the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, and in a separate bowl I mixed the lemon juice and vanilla extract. These things could easily be done by the preschoolers, however me doing would present two problems. A lack of bowls (two for each student, not including the bowl for the apples) and time. While I don’t ever want to push my students to hurry at a task, I also didn’t want to spend all our preschool day making only the apple pies.
Encourage the students to try everything themselves.
Making a pie from beginning to finish may be an unfamiliar task for some, (or possibly most), preschoolers. Always encourage your preschoolers to try the task first, before stepping in to help out. The most difficult task in making mini apple pies is rolling out the dough. This year my preschoolers are only three years old, so effectively using a rolling pin is still difficult for most. They won’t care if the dough has been overworked and is slightly tough, so challenge them to roll the dough, or pat it out themselves. And, since these are free form pies, the shape of the dough doesn’t matter as long as it is not torn. I do, however, use my french rolling pin to do a final roll once each student has given it his or her best effort. This is mainly to make sure the dough it thin enough.
Prepare for a mess, and be ok with it.
Let’s face it, you’re making free form apple pies with preschoolers. For me this year, that was apple pies with six 3 year olds. There is going to be a mess, but that is ok. So much of making pies with these little friends is fine motor work, and their little hands are still gaining control over the basic movements needed for making pie, like stirring and scooping. Their aim is off. They are unaware of their strength. They are clumsy. And that is just right. As a teacher I find it all part of the fun, but it you’re a clean or neat freak (like me), then you need to prepare yourself for the enormous mess that just might happen. Take a deep breath, smile, and give encouragement and gentle reminders. Finally, be sure to have something independent your students can do while you clean up. Like, play outside!
Give the students plenty of time.
On the day we make our free form apple pies, I usually only plan one other activity other than playing outside. Making pies takes a lot of time! This year, it took up over 45 minutes to just roll out the dough, make the filling, and ready the pies to be baked. Then, the pies took another 40 minutes of baking and a good 20 to cool enough to eat. Those alone take up over half my preschool morning. But, it is so important not to rush the students. Adding stress will take the joy out of something so fun and memorable, and it’s just as much about the process as the product. Right?
Make extra of everything.
Preschoolers have a tendency to snack on yummy goodness that appears before them, and making pie is no different. They will want to sample the pie dough, (make sure it is egg free!) They will want to sample the flour and sugar mixture, (to make sure it is sweet enough, they will tell you). And they will certainly want to nibble on those crispy apples they so lovingly peeled and cut. One student actually ate nearly all his apples before we had the pies made, so I had to offer him more apples for his filling. I’m so glad I’d had some extra apple to give him, without having to peel and chop a new apple.
Also, make a few extra pies yourself. Folding the dough over onto the filling is not always successful for the students because they tend not to care if their pie dough tears. Torn pie dough means the syrupy juices from the filling will leak out while baking, making for a very dry and undesirable pie. So, make one or two extra. If they are not needed then you can indulge in a sweet treat with the students when the pies are baked and cooled and everyone is plenty ready for a home made apple pie snack.
A few more tricks before you get started…
I do not have a recipe to share, as I just guessed at what amounts of each ingredient would make a good pie filling. That is how I make apple pie. I put some peeled and chopped apples in a bowl, add a bit of lemon juice and vanilla, a little flour, sugar and cinnamon. That’s it. And there is no recipe. Apple pie is very easy and it is very forgiving. Plus, preschoolers won’t notice if it is not prize winning. 😉
Also, notice in the picture below the circle imprinted in the middle of the dough. This was to serve as a target for the students as they scooped their filling onto the dough. Without it, you are sure to end up with filling everywhere but in the pie.
Ask students to wait for you to form their dough around the filling. Your supervision will help prevent torn pie dough. But be warned that by this point it will be very, very difficult for the children to wait on you and others, so it is helpful to have an extra set of adult hands.
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