Jessica Hamby’s home-based baking school is teaching kids essential life skills.
The smell of brownies baking in Jessica Hamby’s oven would have made any self-respecting chocolate dessert fan forget it was 10:30 a.m., barely past the average person’s window of normal breakfast consumption. As the brownie batter cooked, the children who helped make it gathered around Jessica’s friend and teaching assistant, Jenni Lovelady, as she read “Christmas Cookie Day” to them. After story time, they sat down at the small round table in Jessica’s dining room again, listened to Jessica’s directions and—with careful placement of strawberries and white frosting—turned their brownie bites into small Santa hats. With about 15 minutes left until their parents were set to pick them up, Jessica gave her five little bakers the go-ahead to eat their creations. The final evaluation? Sweet success.
As she closed out 2018 and the first few months of her Itty Bitty Bakers classes with the Santa hat brownies—a fitting activity the week before Christmas—Jessica was already looking ahead to what she wants to accomplish in the new year. Hint: It has much to do with baking. But not just baking for the sake of baking or making desserts (even though that’s a perk for anyone with a sweet tooth.) She’s more interested in building children’s confidence in the kitchen and teaching them essential math and early language and reading skills that will serve them well as they grow. Social and teamwork components come into play in her classes, too.
“I really want to instill kitchen confidence, and I think starting them at an early age getting comfortable in the kitchen is really important,” Jessica says. “I try to choose recipes that children will like to eat and that aren’t too difficult, and that will set the children up for success. They’re making it from scratch.”
The idea for Itty Bitty Bakers came to Jessica during her 4-year-old son Luke’s playdate with Mia Jones in April. “He’s an extrovert,” Jessica says. “He loves for people to come over.” And, as it turns out, he loves to bake. Like a good cake recipe, Jessica realized all of these things, plus her own kitchen knowledge (and master’s degree in health education), could be combined to make a constructive outlet for her son that’s also a small business for her. “This is merging my passion. I’m a dietitian by trade,” she says. “And I love working with children and teaching them about baking.”
When she first started Itty Bitty Bakers, she thought it would just be a summer camp with preschool-aged children. Over time, however, the classes took off and she built a base of regular attendees while receiving new inquiries from interested parents. “The regulars have really increased their skill level,” Jessica says. “We have story time with each class. I try to match the literature with the topic that day.” After a teaching assistant leads story time, the kids work on a coloring activity.
Jessica also makes cards with vocabulary words like “eggs” and “flour” written on them to show the children as they add each ingredient to a mixture. She gives every child a chance to try each task she introduces in class. And she doesn’t always base her classes on baking desserts. The main goal is to find recipes that are kid-friendly in execution as well as taste, and sometimes that means they bake something savory like homemade crackers or pizza puffs.
In addition to honing math and reading skills, Jessica cites psychological studies that show baking helps with mindfulness, self-expression and communicating one’s feelings to others.
She keeps her classes relatively small—usually about five children—to ensure she can give one-on-one attention to every child in a class. In January, Jessica kicked off her classes for grade school children 7 years old and older with the first Baking Boot Camp. “Our grade school kids are super smart, growing toward kitchen independence and big baking fans in their own right,” she says. “They don’t do the coloring activities and story time — they help set up and clean up.”
Many of her participants come from Riverchase, her neighborhood, but she accepts kids from anywhere in the area. She also leads birthday baking parties at people’s homes. Kids have come from as far away as Tuscaloosa for a class, and Jessica has received inquiries about birthday parties in Tuscaloosa, expanding her business’s reach beyond just the Hoover and Birmingham area.
If her own enthusiasm for teaching children the fundamentals of baking isn’t evidence of her classes’ effectiveness, the children’s reactions tell the story. “This was all pretty fun,” Mia says after taking the last bite of her first Santa hat brownie, adding it’s her favorite thing she’s made with Itty Bitty Bakers. “She has learned so much,” Mia’s mother, Amy, says.
**Itty Bitty Bakers Spring and Summer Schedule**
Grade School Bakers:
- Feb. 16 – Queen of Hearts Jam Tarts
- March 16 – Fancy French Breakfast Treats
- April 20 – Bird’s Nest Coconut Macaroons
- May 18 – Marshmallow Flower Cupcakes
- June 18-20 – Baking Camp – mini blueberry Bundt cakes (outing to pick blueberries at Grabuck Farms) on Day 1, parmesan cheddar basil bites and sunshine lemon cupcakes on Day 2 and homemade Pop Tarts on Day 3
- Feb. 2 – Queen of Hearts Jam Tarts
- March 2 – Fancy French Breakfast Treats
- April 6 – Bird’s Nest Coconut Macaroons
- May 4 – Marshmallow Flower Cupcakes
- June 1 – Mini blueberry Bundt cakes (meet up before class to pick blueberries at Grabuck Farms)
- July 16-18 – Baking Camp – homemade Pop Tarts on Day 1, parmesan cheddar basil bites on Day 2 and sunshine lemon cupcakes on Day 3
Find more details about Itty Bitty Bakers online at ittybittybakers.com or on Facebook and Instagram @ittybittybakers.