This isn’t just about cooking. Nor is it about only cooking elaborate meals with your toddler. Essentially, it’s about establishing a space where your child can be independent, confident and learn real life skills. You can do as little or as much as you want, as there are some easy changes you can make to your kitchen for it to be toddler friendly. With the right kids cooking utensils, you’ll have a little chef in no time.
We did a few toddler cooking classes when Miles was two (now 3 and 1/2) and he helped a little bit in the kitchen. Now he gets his own drinks, preps some of his snacks and helps with even more cooking activities. The majority of his progress happened after he started at a Montessori school this past Fall.
He’s been doing a lot of work at school on practical life skills; infusing those skills at home has been life changing. We attended different workshops at the school on how to incorporate Montessori at home and learned a lot, which helped take our kitchen to the next level.
As my second son Ellis is nearing two, I am setting out to create an even better area for them to be independent in the kitchen. This post is not about making your home or child follow a completely Montessori philosophy. But sharing the amazing benefits and tricks we have learned on how to create an environment with the right kitchen tools, where your kids learn how to be self sufficient.
Maybe my excitement is the lazy mom in me speaking. It’s divine when Miles goes and gets his own milk without me helping him. But that’s okay. 🙂 Because he is also learning, growing and becoming an amazing little human. So it’s a win win.
Just imagine- you are engrossed in an activity- maybe it’s playing a game with one of your kids, doing laundry, or prepping dinner etc. A Netflix marathon also counts. Your toddler says they are thirsty. Instead of having to stop what you are doing to grab a glass and the water, your daughter grabs her glass and pitcher from the fridge to prepare her own drink. Now multiply that a few times a day and add snacks. Ah-mazing. You also start to remember that being a parent isn’t just about being a servant.
“The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.”
Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
Our toddlers are completely capable of doing so much. And they show such amazing pride at being able to dominate a task. But they must be given an environment and materials that help them be successful. Child sized furniture, or ability to access difficult areas, as well as access to child sized tableware and food items.
I’m creating a full independent kitchen area for my boys when we move into our new house. I’ll be sure to share that project when completed! Even without much space in our condo, we’ve adjusted a few areas that are just for the boys’ stuff. For now, I’ll share the tools we have found most helpful and some ideas for setting up your kitchen in a way that is toddler friendly.
Basic Kitchen Tools
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- Glass pitchers with lids
- Child sized cups, plates and silverware
- Child accessible cabinet, drawer or both
- Learning tower or step stool
- Check out this post on how to pick your perfect toddler learning tower!
The first thing you want to do is practice pouring and drinking out of a glass. Pouring is second nature to us- but it is a skill that has to be taught. They can pour too fast and spill or pour too much and overflow.
We can’t expect our toddlers to go in the fridge and pull out a gallon of milk or Brita container of water. That is where these pitchers come in. They are the perfect size- we have one for milk and one for water. Placed at a lower shelf in the fridge so it’s accessible.
Child sized glasses. I know you are probably nervous about buying glass. As was I. This is why they are better: they don’t tip over as easily as plastic! You will actually have less accidents with glass. I got these on Amazon and they’ve been perfect. You can start with an even smaller cup if your child is 18 months- 2 years.
Accessible shelves or drawer and low hooks for towels. Just like the pitchers in the fridge, you want your child to be able to get their glasses by themselves. Assign them a drawer, cabinet or get child sized shelves to put in a corner of your kitchen. This is a super cute set up.
It involves a little time and patience at the beginning- especially with the spills that are a necessary part of learning. Teach them how to pour, how to clean up, where everything is, and go over the process a few times with them.
Easy Food Prep
Before getting out a cookbook, kids can start preparing their snacks or very simple foods. In the same place you keep their cups, add other tableware and cooking tools. Consider adding their snacks as well- fruit, goldfish etc.
We currently have their snacks up high, so Miles gets his stool to pull them down. This is something that we are changing for sure. He is almost 4, but our almost 2 year old cannot accomplish this task yet. For him to learn the skills, he has to have them at an accessible height.
Small plates and bowls that are the perfect size for their little hands and containers to store snacks and cereal. By incorporating all of this, your child can independently get their bowl or plate for snack or prepare themselves a bowl of cereal.
Take it a step further by including a cutting board and chopper. Of course, you must first teach this several times and supervise more closely than the previous activities. They can chop an apple, cut a bagel into pieces or cut the tops off their strawberries.
- Kids’ kitchen knives
- Measuring cups and spoons– bright and clearly legible numbers
- Whisk, spoon, bowls
- Silicone baking mat
- Flour sifter
- Cookie cutters
This is where the fun happens. Instead of setting them up with a toy or activity while you cook, you can spend the time together! Great for bonding, developing social skills, following directions, learning math through measurements and the importance of details.
How many pretend kitchens are out there?! They love playing pretend, especially in little kitchens. Allowing them to use real kitchen tools and make real food helps them demonstrate that they are capable little humans.
Miles helped me make oatmeal muffins to take to his school and the pride was just bursting off of him. Before even saying hello to his teacher, he exclaims “I cooked these muffins!” (Full recipe and tips)
The best ways for them to help are pouring ingredients, assist with measuring, stirring and basic cutting. Lastly, this is a great book to get you started with lots of age appropriate recipes!
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