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A freckle here, some sprinkles there



Suitable for children: 
Birthday cupcakes decorated with candles and lollies

Everyone celebrates birthdays differently, sometimes there is cake.

What would happen if there were twins? Would you make one big cake or lots of little ones?

How many cakes will we make? How many of the cakes will be red and how many will be yellow? If we make 12 cakes will there be 6 red and 6 yellow?

We are going to make lots of little cakes for the twins. They have just turned three and love red and yellow, and all things chocolate. Most of all they love to help.

They want to have lollies, freckles and sprinkles covering all of the cakes. But, they don’t want to have red and yellow together. The cakes need to be all yellow or all red, except for the freckles and sprinkles - these can be rainbow coloured.

Place three bowls - red, yellow and white - on the table for sorting. Use the white bowl for the lollies that are not red or yellow. Begin to ice and create patterns on top of the cakes. Explain to the twins that the icing must still be moist for the lollies to stick. If the icing has dried, the lollies could slip off the sides or fall off when you pick up the cakes.

How will the cakes will be decorated? Will there be a small decoration in the middle or will it reach to the edge? How many lollies do you think will fit on the top of the cake? If you want to cover the top of the cake so you can’t see the icing what combination of lollies could you use?

When all of the cakes are decorated check that you did end up with 6 red and 6 yellow cakes. If you didn’t which colour has more? How many cakes have sprinkles and how many just have lollies?

Materials you will need

  • Bowls
  • Knife
  • Cake
  • Icing
  • Lollies
  • Freckles and sprinkles

Alternative tools

  • Fruit
  • Grated vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Savoury muffins
  • Cheese
Skills this activity improves
Why does this matter?

As the twins decorate the cakes they are experimenting with design, placement, sorting and classifying objects by colour, size and shape. Creating their own patterns or designs on top of the cake enables them to make their own decisions and to explain the decision to others. 'I don’t like red so I haven’t used it' or 'there was only room for one big one and lots of small ones'. 

As the twins pick out the lollies, they are experimenting with number and quantity. 'How many lollies can we fit on the top?' 

When they count the lollies out to place them on the top they are matching a number to an object and practicing to count in sequence and order. They are also learning to total objects to represent quantity. The number 4 can be made with 3 lollies and 1 big freckle or it could be created using 2 lollies and 2 freckles.

What does this lead to?

By decorating the cakes children are learning to create designs within a confined space. As they do this they are experimenting with space, placement and position. Once the design has been created they are able to use mathematical language to describe and compare the cakes. They are learning that we can describe and compare things by size, function, colour and shape. 

'I have made 3 red cakes with 1 lolly and you made only yellow cake with lots of lollies.'  

As the twins count out the lollies or look at the size of the cake they are learning to estimate and predict using quantity and number. As they make predictions and match the number of lollies to the size of the cake they are learning that 4 is 4, regardless of how we represent it. Four is the total amount or quantity and it can be represented through 3 yellow cakes and 1 red cake, or 4 red cakes.

Language to use
  • Top, bottom, middle, edge, sides 
  • Lollies, icing, cake 
  • Bowl, knife, spoon, tray, patty pan, plate
Questions to use
  • How many cakes are there? 
  • Are there more red cakes than yellow cakes? 
  • Do all the cakes look the same? 
  • How did you fill in the gaps? 
  • Which lolly is bigger and which is smaller?
Useful tips
  1. You might also like to take a look at the Bake your cake and eat it too activity.
  2. You might like to look at kids health topics from Child and Youth.
  3. Remember to talk to your child in your home language.
More ideas
  1. Read the list of the ingredients for decorating the cakes and ask your child to look for the ingredients in the pantry.
  2. Make a shopping list of ingredients for decorating the cakes. Your child can help you find the ingredients when you go shopping together.
Variation by age

Three to five year olds

  • Sort all of the different coloured lollies into colour groups such as reds or blues. 
  • Draw circles on a piece of paper and use these to make patterns for the cakes before starting on the real cakes. Brainstorm all the different edible “things” you can use for decorating the cakes. 
  • Try and think of different foods you could use to make rainbow-coloured cakes.
  • Collect paint charts and match the different colours to the chart.

Questions to ask

  • How many different colours are there? 
  • Which colour has the most? 
  • What are the colours in the rainbow? 
  • What could we use for purple decorations? 
  • Is any fruit purple?

Language to use

  • Most, few, some, none, lots, many 
  • Purple, green, red, yellow, blue, pink, orange, brown, black, white 
  • Light shade, dark shade, pastel, fluoro, pale, bright