For a lot of families, finding a television show to watch together is harder than it sounds (Bluey is one of the few that passes the test). When you find a show that your kids enjoy as much as you do, it’s a major win, and in our house? That’s the Great British Bake Off (I know, I know — it’s the Great British Baking Show in the U.S., but I can’t). Apparently we’re not the only family that enjoys a good Bread Week. Is it all the pastry-making? The very British humor of the delightfully weird hosts? The fact that, unlike most reality competition shows on television, everyone is actually happy and kind and lovely to each other?
Yes. All of it. And maybe none of it? Despite what you might think flicking through the offerings on most streaming services, there is no reliable formula for creating a show that kids will love — much less one that parents will enjoy as well. Children’s interests vary widely and then there are factors like age, family culture, and peer influences that make finding common TV ground a challenge, says AnneMarie McClain, Ph.D., an assistant communications professor at Boston University and children’s media researcher.
The appeal of GBBO may lie in its ability to translate the adult world to kids: It feels like a grown-up show. “When I think about The Great British Bake Off — and the Juniors version — I think that these programs are wholesome while being sophisticated and real,” says McClain. “They have a competitive edge, but a friendly competitive edge.” Kids’ interest in Bake Off parallels the interest that kids show nonfiction texts. “They are yearning to understand the world, and programs like The Great British Bake Off help them understand how and why things work, and how different kids and people live their lives and do the things they like to do.”
The Great British Baking Show scores another point with kids by modeling skills they’d like to master. Anecdotally, we’ve heard from lots of families that kids who watch are inspired to try making their own “show stopper” biscuits. “Many kids enjoy seeing other people do things that they could model, or that they aspire to,” McClain says. “That’s one of the main ways that kids — and grown-ups — learn. As a famous theory called ‘social learning theory’ by Albert Bandura argues, we can have those vicarious learning experiences via television.”
If your little GBBO fan has never mentioned baking outside of the show and just likes to zone out to the music and the Paul Hollywood handshakes, that’s a sign they enjoy the show for its calming, happy vibes. “I think the calming nature definitely adds appeal. In that way, these shows are different from a lot of other contemporary shows that are very high energy. We live in a really complex world at a time when things can often feel quite overwhelming to kids; they absorb far more than we realize sometimes. Calming programming, I think, can help add to a sense of peace that I think all kids need and crave,” McClain says.
She compares The Great British Bake Off to shows like The Joy of Painting and how-to-draw YouTube videos for kids. “All of these break down the many steps of how to create something. This kind of content can be really impactful for kids because it breaks down something that is, or could feel, really complex into pieces that feel more manageable. Then they could make connections and think, ‘Oh, I have the supplies to do that!’ or ‘I could be like that, too.’”
Finally, watching a competition without any mean-spiritedness is appealing to lots of kids, McClain says; it gives kids a chance to see everyone being creative and everyone being celebrated for that creativity. When a contestant leaves the tent, they often express gratitude for the opportunity, the chance to test their skills, and the friends they made while doing it. That’s a model that kids instinctively find meaningful. “I think that kids, and grown-ups too, need environments where they feel like doing their best and getting to express themselves is enough; where they can have fun being inventive, when everyone can still feel a sense of belonging,” says McClain.
Kids that love GBBO may find a new hobby or interest as they watch and learn how to bake, but they will also learn how to be kind, how to deal with set-backs, and how to celebrate other people, McClain says.
And maybe they just really enjoy a Cake Week.
AnneMarie McClain, Ph.D., M.A., Ed.M., M.S.