kids diy make and bake birthday cake

If you know a little bit about me and my parenting philosophy, you’ll know that I welcome opportunities to get my children into DIY mode. The only way they’re going to learn how to do something is by getting involved, so I may give them a few pointers and then I’ll step back and let them take the lead.

My youngest, R, who I sometimes refer to here as Baby Rainbow, is no longer a baby. Sniff. She just turned two! When we’d ask her what she wanted for her birthday, her response was consistently “vanilla cake.”

Not only do I also drool over vanilla cake, but this simple request made for a totally low-key, low-stress birthday that I look forward to repeating again with future birthdays.

Baking Cakes

To get started, my 4-year old, N, and I mixed up one box of vanilla cake mix from Trader Joes. It doesn’t get easier than that, and the ingredients are actually fairly healthy.

We pulled out our rotary hand mixer/egg beater, which my daughter uses any chance she can get. Not only is it fun for kids to use, but it gets them involved in the kitchen and it does wonders for developing hand-eye coordination and motor skills.

kids use rotary mixer

After she mixed the batter up, we divided it into two 9-inch cake pans and cooked as directed on the box.

Meanwhile, we mixed a batch of our favorite frosting: Buttercream Frosting. Oh-my-goodness. If you’ve never made it before, it’s not only easy, but it’s also highly addictive. Yum.

My kids are always promised a beater to lick at the end of baking, which helps keep hands out of the bowl while we’re assembling.

Once the cakes cooked and cooled, we popped them out of the pans and started in on our grand assembly plan.

Cake Recipes

My 2-year old’s request: Vanilla Cake

My 4-year old’s plan: Two-tiered vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and strawberries in the middle layers. The top will be covered with sprinkles, Happy Birthday letters, a “2” birthday candle, and fairy cupcake toppers (basically, everything we had in the cabinet). I got some really nice ideas from a site called fondant academy . You should check it out.

frosting cake with children

Decorating Step 1: The kids used butter knives to cover the bottom layer with raspberry jam (this was my suggestion, and they did not protest). Then we added a thick layer of vanilla frosting.

kids decorate cake

Frosting for Cake

Decorating Step 2: My 4-year old thinly sliced the strawberries and the kids layered them on the cake.

frosting cake with kids

We placed the second cake on top of the strawberry layer, and then covered the whole thing with frosting. When you’re working with children, it helps to value the process over the product. You can’t worry too much about how the cake is going to look. It’s a bonus, of course, if it looks amazing, but the important thing is that they have take pride in make something amazing happen.


We started gussying the cake up and R requested jelly beans. There were only six left in the box, and she eagerly plunked them into a corner of the cake. This ended up being her piece!

kids bake in the kitchen

And when we were done, they got the frosting bowl as a bonus.


For more of our kid-led cooking experiments: How to Invent a Recipe with Kids, Cooking with Toddlers, Cooking with Kids (exploring butter and rosemary)

Also, one of my friends and favorite bloggers, Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent recently wrote about a birthday cake her daughter made: A Kid Made Birthday Cake. I think my kids would feel right at home in her house!


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  1. On play dates (esp. if there is more than one friend coming over), I will bake sugar cookies in advance (or buy them) and then let the kids make buttercream frosting. My 4 yr old son and his friends love the electric mixer (with close supervision of course). Then I divide up the frosting into bowls and we color it – they are always so tickled when a few drops of yellow and a few drops of blue mix into green. We use food safe paint brushes to frost the cookies and top them off with assorted sugars and sprinkles. It can be a little messy but my dogs take care of anything that ends up on the floor. The kids spend some time all in one place interacting and sharing, and are so proud to take home their creations (those that are not eaten along the way).

    • Play dates at your house must be so much fun for the kids! Aside from my basting brush, I don’t think I have any food-safe brushes, so I’m adding this to my shopping list! Thanks for sharing this idea (and oh, how I we could use a dog in our home).

  2. I just let my 3 year old frost and decorate her own cake. She had so much fun, and I’m so glad I’ve let go of thinking that a masterpiece made by mom is the proper way to celebrate a birthday! All of a sudden the insane stress is gone, and a happy family has returned.

    • So true — when we let go of our ideas of perfection, it can open us up to so many more possibilities. Of course, there’s a place for beautiful baking masterpieces, but maybe it doesn’t have to be for a child’s birthday cake. It’s certainly another way to look at it! It makes me happy to hear that this released you from stress too — maybe we should start a movement! 🙂

  3. I just love how your 4-yr-old up-scaled the 2yr-old’s request. What a great big sister! Hope you all had a lovely birthday celebration.

    • Isn’t that funny, Cathy? I’m happy to see that you picked up on that — kids crack me up, and I learn so much from their inventiveness. It helps me remember that all things are possible. xo

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