How to design your kitchen for little helpers

"Me do it!"

Do you dread these three words?  

Imagine if you could respond by pointing to a cabinet,  your child would gather the tools she needs on her own, and you could continue making dinner.

Yes, it's possible.

Adapting your kitchen is easy with a little planning and set-up.   First, create a functional design that works for your child and everyone else in your family.  Then, consider the time you spend in the kitchen, both working on tasks like meal prep and clean-up and time available for projects.  

Here are some tips to get you started!  

Design the Space

Keep any tools and materials that can be used completely independently (without supervision) in easy reach of your child.  This may mean switching your cabinets around so a few lower drawers are free for plates, bowls, and apron, and cooking tools.  All others should be put away and available by request only.  This will ensure safety and help keep your sanity. Re-evaluate what you have available every few weeks (or sooner if you see a need to).  

This lower drawer is just the right height for a young child to easily access her place setting materials on her own.  

This lower drawer is just the right height for a young child to easily access her place setting materials on her own.  

Store all (independent) tools for your child so they are clearly organized, and arranged in a logical fashion for the task (dustpan near the trash, plates near the silverware, apron on a hook, etc)

Think through everything your child will need for the activity, including clean-up.  Can she easily reach or access these items?  Are they arranged in a logical fashion?

This drawer has a very clear place for all items needed to set a place at the table.  To make this yourself, gather all the materials to be arranged, and lay them out in a drawer, cabinet, or bin.  When you are happy with the arrangement, create a "map" or control of error for where everything goes.  In this case, the drawer was lined with shelf paper, and then all items were outlined in black marker. 

This drawer has a very clear place for all items needed to set a place at the table.  To make this yourself, gather all the materials to be arranged, and lay them out in a drawer, cabinet, or bin.  When you are happy with the arrangement, create a "map" or control of error for where everything goes.  In this case, the drawer was lined with shelf paper, and then all items were outlined in black marker. 

Do you have a work space available for table and floor activities?  Where will your child clean her hands and do these lessons?  Can she safely reach on her own? A learning tower, step-stool, or low table are helpful adaptations.

Photo courtesy of Becca Cole. 

Photo courtesy of Becca Cole. 

Plan Your Time

Create time for your child to help you make lunches, snacks, and dinners when you can.  Use this time to show new skills, build vocabulary, and encourage cooperation in completing the task.  Children who help make food are more interested in eating it!

Offer simple demonstrations of what to do and how to do it, when asked.  Be mindful of over-helping or over-suggesting how to use something which can stunt creativity and problem solving. Ask questions to help guide your child in finding a solution:  Who should stir next, What tool do we need, Where would you find it, How do we know to move to the next step, etc. 

Plan to have blocks of unstructured time, so your child can really get into a project without interruption of other events or tasks. Working in the kitchen without a looming goal of getting dinner on the table will  help your child feel more relaxed, and is a great time to practice skills.  Once your space is set up, you can simply encourage her to get out the material on her own!  

 What is one thing your child really loves to help with in your kitchen? Hop over to our Facebook group for parents and share your success! 

Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.  Schedule a free 20 minute info session here.

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