For many Montessori families, practical life in the kitchen is a significant part of the child's day. We want the child to feel comfortable, confident, and, empowered in the kitchen but how do we make it work?
- Make the child feel welcome. Ensure the child knows they are welcome to help at (almost) any time and make it meaningful. I like to think there is always something a toddler can do. If they can't help for example you are in a rush then its best to have the toddler out of the kitchen. I try to have a few backup ideas especially if they finish their task quickly, perhaps they can pick or chop up some herbs to store in the fridge or to dry, perhaps can they grate some cheese to put in the fridge for later. Can they start to wash salad items, can they chop vegetables for tomorrow? If you are baking bread or cookies can they have their own dough and take their time while you bake ahead?
- Ensure the child knows what they are allowed to do, and knows what they are not allowed to do. For example, chopping with a crinkle cutter is something my toddler does almost every day however, he knows he can't use the large kitchen knife. Ensure they know and understand your expectations.
- Give the child basic skills that allows them to help and participate in the kitchen. Think chopping, slicing, peeling, scooping, stirring, sifting, rolling, measuring, using a cookie cutter, grating, melon balling. Often I don't have time to teach my toddler a new skill but I can pass him his crinkle cutter and a few courgettes and he'll know what to do. Keep on building their skills when you have the time (and energy) and as they are more able and older and then they can competently, safely and productively do more in the kitchen!
- Store the child's kitchen items (knives, mixing bowl, spoons, muffin trays) where they can reach them and where they can find them. A low shelf or a low drawer can work well, perhaps a hook for their apron. The child can gather what they need without having to ask, they can also put them away independently when finished or after washing/drying them or emptying the dishwasher, they can take pride in looking after their own kitchen materials.
- Involve the child from farm to plate. Or garden to plate. It is empowering for the child to be involved in the entire process. Perhaps they can collect eggs from your chickens or strawberries from your garden and use them to make a snack. Perhaps they can pick the apples out at the farmer's markets and slice them, perhaps serve them (or turn them into apple slinkys) when friends come over. Perhaps an older toddler can choose what to make, or to choose from two options, "shall we make apple cake or carrot cake today?". The child can take pride in knowing where their food comes from and playing a role in preparing it for themselves or for others.
As a mother of three, I know cooking with a toddler can be stressful. However, I have learnt that a comfortable and confident toddler in the kitchen is an asset. The more prepared we are and the more involved the child is, the smoother the process goes. It's also important for us to remember that it's ok if the child doesn't want to help, there are times when the children would rather keep on playing or would like to sit nearby rather than help in the kitchen.
We have been testing out our new kitchen helper. This is the first one we've used where the toddler can get up and down independently. It's been a big change and I've had to be more mindful but it's been wonderful and empowering, Otto is up and down all day.
Our kitchen helper is c/o Sprout. This post includes affiliate links to Sprout. We may earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. Thank you for your continued support.
P.S. In the top photograph Otto is helping to make the Deliciously Ella Sweet Potato and Courgette Stew (video here, I don't add any chilli for the kids), it is the best, one of my favourite meals and it's on high rotation. It also involves lots of chopping courgettes and sweet potatoes, win-win!