PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
April 11, 2016

Making soap has become a favorite farm craft for our family, as we busily find uses for our goat’s milk and herbs. Handmade soaps make wonderful gifts and can be used in our own homes to enable us to outsource our needs less and less. I wanted to start making soap for those reasons, but I kept putting off the process of learning because I have five children running around my house all day. Because we homeschool, there is rarely a time when I don’t have kids in my kitchen or involved in my work. Making soap seemed too complicated to try to do with my children—I mean, who’s crazy enough to make soap with kids?!

The fact is, if I’d waited to make soap until I didn’t have kids around, I’d be ready for the grave and no longer in need of that much soap. I couldn’t wait. So I set out to learn the soap-making process well enough that I could find ways to incorporate my children into the work. (This has the added bonus that they’re being trained as soap-makers from an early age and there will come a day when I can say, “Daughter, make us a batch of soap, if you please!” Oh, yeah—looking forward to those days.)

Make Time To Learn Soap-Making On Your Own

The key to involving children with making soap is the same thing I advocate for all the time: plan ahead. If you’re new to making soap, carve out about an hour of alone time each for three separate sessions. First, read instructions thoroughly without once being asked where the hairbrush is. Then, you’ll need to carefully measure fats—there’s no time for a potty-training episode for these first forays into soap-making. Finally, and most importantly, learn how to properly and safely handle lye without little fingers pushing their way into your inexperienced efforts.

Getting these three sessions alone took me about six months. Maybe you can get it done more quickly, but either way, it’s not a race so take the time you need to get some experience under your belt. Even your failures will be helpful to your soap-making education.

Here are two simple recipes to get you started:

Set Up Your Soap-Making Station

kids making soap
Tessa Zundel

Once you feel you have a basic handle on the process, it’s time to introduce the children to making soap. How you do this will entirely depend on the ages and number of children, so I offer my family dynamic only as an example.
To being with, every child helps me gather the ingredients we’ll need for making soap. The older kids find the right oils and fats in the soap making box, the 7-year-old gets out the bowls and digital scale, and the toddler gets out the spoons. It’s usually my job to retrieve the hand mixer from wherever I last stashed it.

Next, I line up my children down one side of the island counter in the kitchen with my toddler on the end, equipped with clay or crayons. I assign each of the other four a job and, for the most part, have them stay in their spot while they do it to avoid spills, confusion and complaining that they didn’t get to do anything:

  • The 7-year-old scoops out the fats and oils into a dish on the digital scale. The nine year old is in charge of zeroing out the scale after each measurement and keeping it clean.
  • The 11-year-old is in charge of watching the temperature on the melting oils.
  • The teenager and I man the lye solution, carefully monitoring its temperature and making sure the fumes are vented. We wear gloves and eye protection for this job because we’ve been doing it long enough to know that lye burns mean business, and we want to avoid them.

Warning: Making Soap Can Be Dangerous

The necessity of precise measuring and the use of caustic lye keeps many parents from making soap with their children. Honestly, I don’t think you need to fear either thing—you just need to be smart about how you go about it.

For example, as the oils, fats and other ingredients are being measured, double-check your child’s work before it leaves the scale. My 7-year-old is happy to watch the numbers on the scale and shout out the results, especially if they’re off in any way. I have my scale staff check their amounts against the recipe every time. Even if they say, “Mom, I already know what it says!” make them check it anyway. It’s good to practice being precise.

As far as the lye goes, again, just be smart. Don’t let your littlest children anywhere near the lye. Process it in the sink with the proper protective gear, and open a window. Know how to properly handle lye and what to do in case of a lye burn. Don’t let really little ones ladle the soap into its mold just in case some splashes out. Whoever does it should wear gloves.

If you have yet to teach your children to obey and follow instructions, do that first. However, even with a few arguments, someone’s mind wandering and someone else suddenly deciding they’re done helping, making soap with children can be a rewarding project for all.

The Perks Of Making Soap

When it’s time to mix the fats and lye, make sure everyone gathers around to watch them saponify, because that’s a big time payoff for a soap maker, regardless of age. “I made it work,” was the cry of my 11-year-old the last time he got to man the hand mixer and watched the goop change from a plain mixture to magical soap goo.

I let my children take turns picking the fragrance we’ll use in each soap batch, though I have veto power. Sometimes I’ll see my kids checking on the soap as it dries on the racks after it has been molded. They’ll say things like, “That one’s mine. Remember, I picked the apple smell.” It may seem like a small reward, but that kind of ownership creates a connection between my child and the process of soap-making.

Like all my homesteading efforts, most of what I do, I do for the benefit of my children and their children. I want these skills to come naturally to them, precisely because I had to work so hard to learn them and it gives me joy to think of sending them off into their lives being prepared for anything. Even the crisis of a soap shortage. You laugh, but can you imagine life without soap?

Take a deep breath, prepare ahead of time and keep things organized as you include your children in the process of soap making (or anything-making). Be sure to tell them how proud you are of them and compliment them on how hard they work to contribute to your family’s stores.



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