Food prep and working in the kitchen is such a vital part of every family. When you can stand back and watch your child prepare their own snacks or even make recipes on their own, you know they are experiencing joy and contributing to their family it’s a magical moment once you realize that these tiny individuals are completely confident with cooking.
But how do you create a Montessori-friendly kitchen where even the youngest child will feel at home? It seems like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Fortunately, there are some easy ways to set up your kitchen so your child can start learning immediately.
A Prepared Kitchen Environment
There are two ways you can prepare your kitchen for some Montessori learning. Either you make the kitchen you have into a prepared environment, or you set up a mock kitchen that teaches practical skills. Those skills will carry over to the real kitchen when it’s time. But whichever route you choose, you will need a workspace just for your child.
They should be comfortable with its location and accessibility. If you plan on setting up a space in the kitchen, get a child-sized table and chairs. This will be where your child prepares their food, pours their water, and sits down to eat. Make sure to give them some space to store cooking utensils, dishes, towels, mixing bowls, blunt cutlery, and cups that are child-height. This could be in the pantry, on the bottom shelf, or their own cabinet.
Cleaning supplies should also be within reach. Sponges, dustpans, and brooms will all teach your child some responsibility for their messes. They also develop their independence when cleaning their messes, as well as concentration to do the job well. Motor skills are fine tuned when prepping food and cleaning up.
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Why Have a Toddler-Friendly Kitchen?
The other option you have is a play kitchen. Some parents may go as far as repurposing a play kitchen (like the one from IKEA) into something more functional, where the child can wash their hands, fill their cup, and portion out their snacks easily. A “play” kitchen is less for play in a Montessori-based environment and more for hands-on learning.
The play kitchen might have several drawers and a cupboard where forks, spoons, knives, plates, and other cooking utensils can be stored. Keep a cutting board on top for preparation. You can set up a jug of water with a tap that pours into a basin, so your child can rinse their hands and their dishes. It is best to give your child a single set of everything to prevent overwhelm.
Age Appropriate Ideas for Food Preparation and Cooking
Even young children can be involved in the kitchen and with cooking. Based on your observations and how your child is developing, some of the ideas within the age groups may be too advanced or too easy. Supervise your children and make adjustments as necessary.
Less than 1 year old
- Sit them in a baby carrier or high chair and let your child see what is going on
- Engage their senses: watching, smelling, talking, tasting, touching, and more
- “Helping” you wash produce or dishes
1-2 years old
- Peeling fruit
- Shelling peas or edamame
- Kneading dough
- Peeling hard boiled eggs
- Setting the table for dinner
- Retrieving things that you ask for from the cabinets and drawers
- Pouring drinks into cups
- Cleaning up spills and crumbs
2-3 years old
- Cutting or slicing fruits with an apple slicer
- Whisking ingredients, like eggs
- Slicing vegetables or softer vegetables (then level up to sharper knives and denser vegetables and fruit)
- Grating cheese
- Making fruit-infused water
- Preparing milk and cereal for breakfast (similarly, you can set up a muesli station)
- Using a salad spinner
- Buttering bread
3 years or older
- Using appliances, like the microwave or toaster, with supervision
- Learning simple recipes
- More advanced skills with knives and cutlery
- Using scales and measuring amounts for recipes with spoons and cups
- Add challenge to previously learned skills, too!
Tips for Cooking With Children
Older children will eventually move away from their functional toddler kitchen. Here are some ways you and your children can safely cook together:
- Keep cleaning items within reach, particularly your child’s reach
- Children that are steadily standing can use a step stool or ladder to reach the adult height countertop, so they can see what is going on
- Position yourself between your child and the stove at all times
- You can have your child work at the kitchen table or dining room if there is not enough space in the kitchen
- Practice patience, remember that children are not going to do everything perfectly all the time. Your child might not chop vegetables correctly. Things will drop on the ground, spill, or take a long time.
- Keep a broom and dustpan and some aprons in adult and child sizes nearby
It is easier than you think to incorporate the Montessori approach within your home. The kitchen is the perfect place to give children freedom within limits and offer up some responsibility. You will be amazed by how quickly children learn to wash up, portion out food, and even cook when they are given space to test their skills.
Interested in Montessori schools in Philadelphia for your children? Why not give Fishtown Montessori a try? Get in touch with us to learn more about our programs and scheduling by emailing us or calling us at 215-821-1455.