Gingerbread houses have always been a special holiday tradition for my family. My mother used to host a gingerbread workshop at our church every year. As a result, I learned a lot about constructing a solid gingerbread house and what types of candy are best for decorating.
I still love gingerbread as much as I did as a kid. I love finding the perfect candy for decorating the house. And I love building gingerbread with people I love. My friends and I have an annual tradition of making haunted gingerbread houses at Halloween. This year, Buddy helped for the first time. However, the house was a bit of a mess. I knew I wanted to try again at Christmas, so I put some thought into how to make Buddy’s house a successful one. Here are my tips for making a gingerbread house with a toddler (or for kids of any age).
1. If you are new to gingerbread, use a kit.
I love homemade gingerbread, but it takes a lot of practice to do it well. When you make it from scratch, not all edges will be perfectly straight and not all pieces will be the same thickness. Royal icing hides mistakes well, but it’s easier if everything is shaped the way it is supposed to. It also is a lot less time consuming to just buy a kit.
2. The younger the kid, the more candy you will need.
You will need more candy besides just the kit. The pictures on kits have a little candy and a lot of icing decorations. But young children can’t do that. I bought some extra peppermints, spice drops, m&ms, and Wilton icing decorations. Other favorites are sugar ice cream cones (for trees) and white chocolate covered pretzels (for fences) and snow caps.
3. Get your house built and candy set up before bringing the toddler to the table.
We did a gingerbread train kit because Buddy is obsessed with trains. While Buddy took his nap, I constructed the train. I also took all of the candy out of the packages and put into small bowls. The kit icing comes with a cap so you can easily do some early and the icing will stay fresh. If you do a real royal icing, a wet dish cloth over the bowl will keep the icing fresh for a couple hours.
4. Give your toddler easy decorating tasks.
The tiny candies are really hard for small hands to place accurately. Large candy has to be held to dry, otherwise it slides down the house . Neither of these things are particularly easy for toddlers to do. The best places for toddlers to decorate are flat surfaces. Buddy was most successful decorating the wheels (which rest on the ground), the top of the train, the top edge of the caboose, and the fence/yard.
5. Let your toddler have some input over the more difficult decorating tasks.
I asked for Buddy’s input on places that I knew were going to be tough for him to decorate himself. Some sample questions I asked were, “What candy should go here?”, “Where else should we decorate?”, and “What color should I use next?” We also ended this way when Buddy couldn’t resist the candy any more and every piece in his hands went into his mouth. (Eating the candy is the best part of decorating, so I don’t blame him!)
6. Let your toddler be creative.
Toddlers and adults see the world in very different ways. A toddler’s viewpoint is actually great for gingerbread houses. Buddy wanted to add some dinosaurs to our train to make it a dinosaur train. And while I never would have thought to do that, I think it adds charm to our train.
7. Accept that it won’t be perfect.
I am a perfectionist, so I want my colors to be in patterns and my candy to be nice and neat. It just won’t happen if a toddler is an active part of the decorating process. And that’s ok. We had a lot of fun together, and I think our gingerbread train turned out great.
Please comment if you have any questions about anything related to gingerbread! And good luck with making a gingerbread house of your own.