The kitchen is full of things which pose a danger to a toddler. There are sharp implements, hot surfaces, glasses to break and liquids to spill. Yet the kitchen is also full of opportunity for a toddler who more than anything else seeks the chance to be independent and to make a valuable contribution to their family.
Our Kitchen Space
We are lucky enough to have space for a dedicated unit just for Alfie. Of course this is not possible in every home but if you can then it’s best to give a child their own dedicated space, even if it’s just on shelf in a cupboard or a low down drawer. Having their own spaces gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership over what they do.
It took several weeks and many modifications to reach this set up. I kept trying things that didn’t suit his abilities or deciding it was finished only to realise that he needed something else. I’m fairly happy with what we’ve got now though I fully expect to continue modifying it.
A Montessori Kitchen
Alfie’s work space is laid out as follows.
A space for dishes – He rarely holds dinner parties so his needs are simple! He has a plate, one large bowl for mixing in, a small bowl to eat from and two glasses. I limit the dishes to what he can use in one session, if there was too many I find that he plays with them instead of using them. Play is fine but in his kitchen I want him to stay focussed on the task in front of him.
A space for utensils – In this cubby he has two mini chopping boards, his apple slicer, an egg slice, a chopper, a knife and a wooden spoon. Some of these items get used more frequently than others.
A space for tidying up – Over here we have a big basin and a sponge for doing his dishes, beside it we have his dustpan and brush and a tea towel.
A space for water – We can’t have a low sink so Alfie uses this water dispenser to get drinks, fill his watering can, give the dogs water. I hope that one day he’ll put the basin under it so we can wash his dishes there – but so far I’m the only interested in that!
He also has a small fridge where he keeps his fruits, cheese and eggs. When Indi no longer needs space for her bottles etc he will have a cupboard too for his bread, crackers and cereal.
Modelling in the Montessori Kitchen
Few places at home is modelling more necessary than the kitchen. Nearly every task has multiple steps and a child needs to see them lots of times before they can do them. I’ve been doing ‘set ups’ for Alfie since he was 17 months. I still do them for new recipes.
In a meal set up I’ll lay out the tools he’ll need from left to right in the order he will use them. I’ll call him over and tell him what we’re making, I’ll name each tool we have as I tell him what I’m about to do. Then I will model making the whole snack and let him take it to the table. I think it’s important to have him watch the whole thing BEFORE he attempts it even if he could manage some steps. If he doesn’t watch it he tends to get over excited and forget steps eg putting things in the bin.
In the picture of the boiled egg snack I had laid out what he needed. When I invited him over I said “We’re going to make a snack of a boiled egg. First I’m going to peel the egg and put the shell in the bin, then I’ll put the egg into the slicer and lower the handle. After that I’ll move it to the bowl and we can eat it. Peel, slice, bowl.”
Then I showed him how to do it. The next day he asked to make it again and that time all I did was peel the egg, he was comfortable with the other steps.
Independent Snack Preparation
Thanks to the prepared environment Alfie makes the following snacks without any input from me at all. Any steps that I must complete for him I make sure to have done ahead of time.
- Cereal and milk
- Sliced apple and pear (sliced into rings by me)
- Chunks of melon (melon already quartered in his fridge)
- Cheese and crackers
- Boiled egg (egg boiled by me)
- Sliced bananas and berries
- Toast with spreads (butter, peanut butter)
Alfie is able to and more importantly enjoys helping to prepare dinner. We don’t have a leaning tower so he either stands on a chair or sits on the counter beside us.
- Pesto (pounding up pesto was one of his first recipes)
- Rolling gnocchi
- Mixing sauce for carbonara
- Tossing veg in oil and seasoning for roasting
- Topping pizzas
- Give it time, it took Alfie a long time to show interest in his kitchen!
- You NEED the DRIP TRAY for the water dispenser!
- Our cabinet isn’t ideal. The open cubbies can be a problem
- Set it up first thing in the morning ready for brekkie. Keep extra dishes etc so you can top it up through the day
- You only need a to stay one meal ahead!
- Snacks in our house are cheese, fruit, nuts, crackers and (on a Friday) chocolate buttons