A popular toy for children is a play kitchen. In these kitchens, children can pretend they are cooking and performing other kitchen activities. But are model kitchens Montessori and how can you use one in your home?
Technically, play kitchens are not Montessori; however, functional kitchen spaces for children are. Introduction to real kitchen activities should ideally start in an actual kitchen. However, a play kitchen can be repurposed into a more Montessori-aligned kitchen where practical life activities can take place.
Giving your child access to a functional kitchen area will benefit their motor skills and encourage independent learning. Continue reading this article to learn more about Montessori kitchens, why you should use them, and how to implement them in your home.
What is a Montessori Kitchen?
A Montessori kitchen may be confused with a toy kitchen; however, the two are different. A toy kitchen is a space where children can pretend to cook and clean. Toy kitchens rarely resemble a real kitchen space.
Meanwhile, a Montessori kitchen is a functional space for your child to experiment with actual cooking and cleaning activities. It is an environment where your child can practice independent learning and help them build confidence in practical life activities.
Is a play kitchen aligned with Montessori teaching?
There is plenty of debate on this question. As mentioned above, a Montessori kitchen should not be confused with a toy kitchen or play kitchen. However, you can repurpose a toy kitchen to be a Montessori kitchen.
In a toy kitchen, children have no limits and no expectations. On the other hand, children should use a Montessori kitchen for practical activities. Doing so will teach the child many lessons, such as how to be safe and responsible.
While the toy kitchen does not align with Montessori, having a functional kitchen space for your child is a Montessori practice.
Remember, if you still want your child to have full access to a play kitchen, feel free to do so! Every child learns and develops differently. It is perfectly acceptable to deviate from the Montessori method on occasion. There are some beautiful, modern play kitchens these days
When to Implement the Montessori Kitchen
There is no specific age you should implement the Montessori kitchen with your child. As soon as your child learns to walk, they will start to imitate the actions they see you do. When your child starts showing an interest in cooking, cleaning, or completing other chores, they are ready for a Montessori kitchen.
Every child will reach this point of interest at different times. Most children begin to show an interest in the Montessori Kitchen at around 16 to 18 months old. Introduce your child to this learning technique at their own pace.
Allow your child to watch you cook and prepare meals. When appropriate, let them help with the meal preparation. Children enjoy participating in meal preparation; however, the kitchen is not always a safe environment. Giving your child a Montessori kitchen lets them imitate your actions in a secure environment.
How to Make and Implement a Montessori Kitchen
Your child’s Montessori kitchen should be as realistic and functional as possible. A Montessori kitchen should also resemble your actual kitchen and only feature life-like aspects of it. Your child is not old enough for a microwave or a range, so do not include models of these appliances in the Montessori kitchen.
When your child uses non-functional cooking devices, they do not learn how to use them properly and safely. It’s better to remove them entirely rather than replace them with non-functional replacements.
If you can set up the kitchen to feature running water, do so. If your Montessori kitchen does not have plumbing capabilities, get a water dispenser and set this behind the sink. Having access to (limited) running water lets them feel like their kitchen is just as good as yours. Additionally, running water increases the activities your child can do in their kitchen.
If possible, your Montessori kitchen should only include utensils and other items made of natural materials.
While there are plenty of kitchen spaces for children available for purchase, designing and building a Montessori kitchen of your own allows you to customize every detail of your child’s learning experience. All you need to build a Montessori kitchen is a short cabinet (you may need to cut it down so your child can reach it) or a short table. Cut a hole in the top of the table and place a bowl in it for the sink.
Label spaces for dishes inside the cabinets so your child knows they need to put things away in their proper places.
Other items to include in your Montessori kitchen are silverware, cloth napkins, and a dishtowel. You will only need one of each item. The Montessori kitchen is about more than just playing and pretending to cook. This area is a functional space for children to participate in and practice meal prep.
When snack time comes around, give your child the ingredients and let them prepare the snack in their Montessori kitchen. Have them set their place at the table using the dishes from their kitchen space. If they make any spills, have them calmly clean it up with their dishrag.
Be sure to emphasize calmness when they clean up messes. Cleaning up their mess teaches them that they are responsible for correcting their own mistakes. Doing so calmly teaches them that mistakes are a part of learning.
You can also leave some dry snacks in their Montessori kitchen space. Only leave enough for one day to prevent any over-eating. Your child can access these snacks whenever they are ready. Each of these practices will help your child learn independence and responsibility.
Introduce each aspect of the Montessori kitchen to your child slowly. Consider having the space start as a handwashing station. Once they understand handwashing, teach them how to prepare simple snacks here. Over time, teach your child the many activities that take place in this space.