Play kitchens are fairly common toys for kids; they can range from cheap ones you can get free off of Craigslist (or abandoned at tot lots), to gorgeous heirloom ones. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the different options in this arena:
No play kitchen
In the Montessori educational philosophy, preschoolers do not have play kitchens. Instead, they learn to prepare very simple foods in the kitchen of their own home or at school. Other than buying a few child sized kitchen tools, and a small apron for cuteness and clothing protection, this is the least investment in “stuff.” This is most appropriate for families living on boats or in very tight spaces, or blackbelt minimalist families. No pots and pans, artisanal knitted or hand-crafted wooden foods. The best part about this approach is that children feel useful and are more likely to eat food that they’ve taken part in making. The downside is that it takes much longer to make dinner. So where to put your kid in the kitchen?
- On counters: it goes without saying that tight supervision and childproofing are paramount with this option. See this post from one of my favorite blogs on making do.
- On a stepstool. We have a simple one from IKEA.
- In a special structure such as the Learning Tower or the “Kitchen Helper”. We have neither of these. This is more expensive and may not be practical for families extremely tight on space.
- At a child-sized table. The above picture is V “helping” us make scallion pancakes. The table and chairs were made by cutting the legs off a set from IKEA. The Michael Olaf catalogue has a good overview of the Montessori prepared environment broken down by age and areas. Here is the section on food and eating. The table can also be used for crafts, so it can be multi-functional.
Some parents believe that the act of dramatic play is important for emotional and cognitive development, and a play kitchen can help with that. There are several routes you can take here…
DIY: Handy parents may want to build a simple play kitchen for their kids. We created this simple kitchen out of a $20 pine box from a local unfinished wood furniture store. Other resources for DIY’ers:
- Apartment Therapy has a roundup of DIY play kitchens and a more comprehensive collection of play kitchens. Search on their website if only to get inspired by other people’s creativity.
- You can also do a quick search for “DIY play kitchen” on Flickr.
- You can download plans for a cardboard kitchen that you can assemble yourself.
The other commonly procured play kitchens are thrifted/second hand ones that can be found on Craigslist, at thrift stores or yard sales, or storebought ones. I covet this gorgeous kitchen, but we will probably save our money.
Outfitting the play kitchen
- Small pots, pans, and utensils can be found at thrift stores; we got our set brand new from IKEA.
- Acorns, pinecones, seashells, leaves and flowers can serve as “food” – you will need to determine the right size of these “food” items for choking hazard reasons. The rest below are not necessary, rather they are icing on the cake.
- Wooden foods can be bought or made.
- Play foods can be knit or made out felt. I have been very tempted, but I don’t have the time. We bought some wooden fruits and vegetables from a second hand shop, and a set of wooden eggs. Part of me also doesn’t believe it’s necessary to be too specific in representing food, especially if the goal is to exercise children’s imagination.
- Mittens, potholders, etc can be make on a sewing machine from materials you have on hand
- Tiny sized ketchup bottles, mustard , honey and jam jars can be collected at restaurants (they are usually thrown out after a single use). Use your own judgement/discretion when it comes to glass jars. You can also save various food containers such as milk cartons (rinsed thoroughly), yogurt containers, etc. They can be stored in a basket next to the play kitchen.
Other resources/articles I found helpful:
PBS article on the benefits of dramatic play