Life Skills: a day in the life of a traveling bread-baking instructor

A guest post from Life Skills Bread Baking program manager/senior instructor Paula Gray.

The day dawns quietly, a soft, misty, peaceful morning. But no lounging for me: I’ve got to get up and get ready for school!

First thing on my agenda is… coffee. As a Life Skills Bread Baking Program instructor, the day often starts well before anyone is stirring.

King Arthur Flour Life Skills instructors travel to schools around the country…

…bringing the free Life Skills program to thousands of 4th-7th graders. We present a 50-minute demonstration on the hows and whys of bread baking.

Students learn to make beautiful loaves, and also how to make pizza, cinnamon rolls, pretzels, and bread sticks!

We provide materials for them to bake two things at home – one is a loaf they bring back to school to donate to a community organization. They eat the rest of what they’ve made themselves!

As any teacher will tell you, preparation is the key to success. Here’s what generally happens at my house (or hotel, if I’m in another state) before the Life Skills instructor arrives at your school.

The night before, the house smells great because I bake bread samples to display on the demo table so the kids can see three examples of different loaves. (I always make one loaf of cinnamon bread, too, to eat at home.)

While the bread bakes, I make sure I have everything ready for my Box. That’s Box with a capital “B.”

I bring everything I need for the presentation to the school: flour, oil, sugar, salt, yeast, extra recipes, dough scrapers, measuring spoons, measuring cups, spoons, rolling pin, paper towels, scissors, tablecloth, towels, apron – even a video camera and a tripod.

Sometimes I ship my Box ahead if I’m flying somewhere to teach Life Skills presentations at several schools over a few days. Flour is h-e-a-v-y!

My box is well-traveled. It’s been to hundreds of schools from California to Maine.

The last thing to do the night before a presentation is to figure out the timetable for the following day, and to determine how to get to the school and how long that will take. For a demo at 8 a.m., here’s what might happen:

5 a.m. – Coffee!  (See first sentence above).

5:30 a.m. – Get self ready.

6:10 a.m. – Make dough for demo. More coffee!

Note: Can you find Turbo, one of my kittens, trying to come along for a bread-baking lesson?

6:45 a.m. – Load car and drive to school.

6:55 a.m. – Wrong turn. GPS – help!

7:15 a.m. – Arrive at school (phew!), unload, and set up.

8 a.m. – Show time!

Kids get so enthusiastic when they learn how to make bread and pizza and rolls all by themselves. I love teaching them that baking is really science, that a recipe is a math equation – and that when you’re a baker, you’re a scientist, mathematician, an artist, an engineer, and so much more.

After the demonstration, I pack up and normally head right to another school to set up and teach again; or I teach two presentations back-to-back if the school has several hundred students.

And more often than not, I travel to another town and do it all over again the next day. And the next. And maybe the next!

Our Life Skills team – from left to right, Gina Ciancia, Pam Jensen, and Paula Gray (that’s me!) – brings the program to thousands of students all over the country each year. During the 2010-2011 school year, we taught more than 37,000 students in 195 schools in 25 states!

It’s lots of moving around. And you never know what or who you’ll find when you arrive at a school; that’s part of the excitement.

Kids understand what it means to give and to share with people who have less than they do.

Teachers and parents and students tell us how much fun they have baking (and eating, of course).

When I’m not out there teaching, I’m in the office planning the schedule and working with schools all over the country to get them on our Life Skills calendar. We’d love to come to your area to get kids excited about baking while they give back to the community! Step one is the application

If you’re excited to bake with the kids in your life, try our Life Skills Basic Bread Recipe.

Allison Furbish

Allison Furbish is a native of the Upper Valley, where King Arthur Flour is based, and an avid lifelong baker especially enthusiastic about anything chocolate.


  1. Sandra Alicante

    Such a shame that the schools here don’t even have kitchens, no ovens, nothing for teaching cookery. I don’t know if that it is the case all over Spain but in our region it certainly is.

    Many schools here don’t have cooking facilities, either. Our program doesn’t rely on ovens in the schools, and we’re so glad to be able to bring our baking program to students who otherwise may not get any culinary education. -Allison

  2. tamisc

    i had the pleasure to meet Paula when she came to InterLakes Elementary School last year, it was the greatest program and my two kids (and the entire school!) loved it.

    Glad you all enjoyed it! It’s such a fun program – for us, too! -Allison

  3. JuliaJ

    Saw your comment about the program not needing ovens in the school–how do you handle this situation? Some schools here in CA don’t even have a kitchen for lunch prep–kids brownbag (or run out to the nearest fast food place for a burger, yikes!)

    Sadly enough, “Home Ec” seems to have fallen by the wayside. My first loaf of bread was baked in Home Ec in 8th grade. I still remember rushing back to the home ec room to shape the loaf during my study period late in the day. I think our teacher put all the loaves in the oven for us to pick up at the end of the day to take home as class schedules only provide one home ec period during the day. It wasn’t the greatest loaf (compared to what I’m baking today) but fresh baked bread always smells heavenly.

    So glad you’re trying to bring these basics back to schools!

    We don’t typically do any baking in the school; we come prepared with baked bread for show, and then the demonstration covers everything from raw ingredients to shaping dough, stopping just short of actually putting anything in the oven. The students bake their bread at home. You can read more on our Life Skills page. Thanks for asking! -Allison

  4. lindadv

    I want to come to class! I loved Home Ec, my kids had a life skills class, just a bit of everything thrown into that class. I was so excited when KA brought the seminar on yeast breads to our town.

    I want to learn how to keep the swirl together like your loaf of cinnamon bread. I have tried egg wash, water, milk and butter but there is always a serious gap in the top. Is it my construction technique or our 7000′ elevation?

    It could be either. Here is the altitude chart:

    Frequently a “gap” is caused by either over filling or a loose roll up of the dough. next time keep a special eye on both of these steps. Frank @ KAF.

  5. susanwells

    I would like to take your classes, but I am in Washington state.
    Would you ever consider putting these on a DVD?
    Your fans that would never be able to come to Vermont, then could learn and enjoy your classes.
    Susan W. Edmonds,WA

    I’ll pass along your encouragement to the Education Team. Frank @ KAF.

  6. daphnewoman

    What a great job you have! Lucky kids to be exposed to something that, in some families, is exotic! I feel strongly that those of us who bake bread, cakes and pies owe it to those who are younger to teach them how to do it too.

  7. mboone5758

    Family and Consumer Science has been the name for “Home Ec” for many years.

    I used the Home Ec teacher’s kitchens during her Plan time at school. Took my class of Sp Ed students for “Lab” in conjunction with Science class once per week. Had SIX complete kitchen, half were gas, half were electric. Great to teach skills in my HS classes. Sometimes, we did things with her class–baked together. We also made bread in my bread machine–in the classroom as Math class. That was in the 80s 0 2010. Retired, or I would invite KA to come.

    I was sorry to see sewing discontinued though and that was about 10 years ago in Georgia.

  8. sherrilnbill

    Please, please, consider making a series of DVD’s for us on baking
    bread, decorating cakes, making cheesecakes, pizza, and any other
    hard-to-do cooking projects and shortcuts that we didn’t learn from mom. Since you don’t get to Southern California, we need good information too.
    The DVD’s would be fantastic as a wedding shower gifts also.
    Sherril Gerard
    Santa Ana, CA.

    Truthfully, we’re concentrating on online videos at the moment – we’re in the midst of a whole series, starting with yeast bread and sourdough. However, our Baking Sheet editor, Susan Reid, has just completed a pie DVD which will soon be available to Baking Sheet subscribers. You might want to check that out- PJH

  9. teachingcotton

    Paula came to our school district in North Carolina last winter. Our students are still talking about the “bread lady” and how they are making bread at home. They think it is so cool that they can buy King Arthur Flour in our small town (so do I). One 6th grade boy told me last week he has decided to become a chef since he learned to bake with the bread lady. I love, love, love this program!
    I passed your enthusiasm on to Paula, I’m sure it will make her smile. Thank you for your kind words. ~Amy

  10. Alice Mullis

    I had the pleasure of working with Paula Gray for two years as we coordinated the Life Skills Baking Program in several schools in the Houston County Schools in Georgia. It was such a successful program. My students and the over 600 sixth grade learned so much. I was able to reinforce the knowledge in all of my Family and Consumer Sciences classes. Our middle school chapter of Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) took it to the next level by applying for and winning the 2014 National FCCLA Leadership in Service Award with the King Arthur “Bake for Good Kids” program. It is one of the most unique programs of its kind offered to students in grades 4-7. I was amazed as our students learned how science, math and vocabulary all connect in a fun and educational format. School staff, parents and the community supported the program. We were able to reach out into the community to share loaves of homemade bread with others. I cannot praise the King Arthur Flour Company and Paula Gray enough. This is a truly professional educational opportunity you do not want your students to miss. Thanks Paula for one of the best professional experiences in my teaching career.

    Alice Mullis
    Retired Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher
    Cochran, Georgia


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