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Whether it’s using store bought cookie sides, graham crackers arranged to create a house shape or baking actual gingerbread from scratch, gingerbread house decorating is a great activity to do with kids during the Christmas season. This year we opted for a store bought gingerbread house kit to complete with a pair of 3 year olds and it was quite learning experience I wanted to share!
I remember crafting up gingerbread houses every year as a kid with graham crackers and an icing my mom whipped up. (I can still mentally taste the icing and know the exact flavor!) With both Brielle and my niece Brinley now being 3 years old and REALLY into craft kits this season, (especially the somewhat edible kind) I picked up a Wilton Mini Village Gingerbread House kit during a sale at AC Moore and hoarded it for this past weekend. I apologize for these poor cell photos as it wasn’t something I planned to document for blogging but wanted to share some tips I learned that might help others who are trying these out!
- Open the box and read the directions MUCH PRIOR to sitting down to do it with kids! Know that this isn’t a kit you open and just start working on right away! One of the first steps to our kit? Create and assemble the house structure 3-4 HOURS prior to decorating! Whoops, we skipped that and of course had two deconstructing situations, but they were fixable. Even if you skipped that step like we did, it did help to have the kids away while I prepared the houses, topping bowls and icing bags so at least two adults are needed (one to entertain during this step!)
- Stage the houses on paper plates or a removable protected surface. In case you weren’t aware, most of these kits won’t include a bottom to the house so staging them on something like a paper plate was necessary so you could spin them around as you decorated and move them away to set once complete.
- Buy extra icing. Our kit came with 2 icing colors, red and white which seemed to be plenty to decorate our surfaces. However, there were often times when one child was waiting for the other color as you do need some patience and a delicate hand for some decorating techniques. Extra icing (or even just more bags to do piping with the icing) could help!
- Put decorating candies in wide bowls. Hands need to fit into the bowls to pick up some smaller materials so wider mouthed bowls helped them pick it up. All the candies come in little plastic bags so know that you’ll need some prep materials to make for a more fun experience.
- Buy extra candy or raid your pantry for decorating materials! Our kit can with the smallest, round sprinkle materials which could be used as lights to decorate the houses. Too small for three year olds but I could see older kids liking the size for mini house creations. Instead we broke out some M&Ms and chocolate chips from the cabinet to decorate (and of course sample!)
- Add icing dots to the houses to decorate, not lines. We’d ask the child what panel they wanted to decorate and apply dots of icing. Then the child would place their candy decoration of choice on the dot. When we tried this technique at first with a line of icing, it was harder for them to understand where to place the decoration and the icing would get harder faster. As the directions stress, you only have about 5 minutes to decorate once you place the icing on a surface.
- Save the leftover icing. Not forever, but for a little while after creating. As stated before, we had a little bit of a deconstructing situation and needed extra icing to fix the structure. This could probably have been avoided if we knew lesson #1 up front, but it probably doesn’t hurt to hold onto the extra icing until your creations have fully set.
Is the kit worth the under $10 price tag? Yes!
In future years will I try to make my own with whipped up icing and graham crackers like when I was a kit? Yes I will! Think that might be more when they’re older and are more into the pretty creation aspect of gingerbread houses designs vs seeing how many M&Ms they can sneak.
Do you have any other tips to share or icing recipes to give?