For a long time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to create a Montessori kitchen for my children. The lack of space in our modest kitchen made it difficult to figure out how to make essential items accessible for the children without creating a separate or special low space for them.
Then it occurred to me one day that I could simply trade the spaces we’ve been using.
It has been so effective for us that I just had to share our simple solution for anyone else out there who might have the same constraints as we did.
I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but all it took was simply moving our entire family utensil drawer to a lower drawer so that my toddler can reach it without using a step stool. My utensil drawer was always the topmost drawer, so I just swapped it with the kitchen tools drawer. So now the more dangerous kitchen tools like peelers and knives are on the top drawer.
These are some child-sized kitchen tools that I have made accessible in the utensil drawer. (We also have a juicer that is not in the photograph because I forgot all about it.)
Using the same strategy, I moved all of our family dishware to the bottom cupboard. Now everyone can access all of our dishes, bowls, cups and pitcher. The chopping boards have always been there, and it makes sense to leave it there for the children to use when needed.
You might be wondering why there’s so much plastic. I know they aren’t very Montessori, but they aren’t specially for my kids. The whole family uses them. We love them! Especially for toast or sandwich prep, or getting a quick snack.
You also see lots of colourful plastic cups. Again, they’re not specially for my kids. My husband and I use these cups for a quick sip of water or to enjoy the occasional airline-sized soda (the small size helps to keep the portions of these indulgences under control.)
Z cannot yet remember all the steps or tools involved in preparing a simple snack, he still needs reminders very often. But whenever I politely suggest that he needs to get a plate, or a spreader, or whatever tool is required, the response most of the time is a simple “Oh!” followed by “Ok, mommy” or “Thank you, mommy.”
We cannot live without this painter’s step stool — such a simple solution! It is light enough for Z to carry around to where he needs it, it’s sturdy enough even for adults to stand on so I use it to get things I can’t reach, my older son M (8) turns it around to stand on the lower step when he needs the extra height, and it cost us less than $15 from Home Depot. We use this every single day.
We eat rice almost daily, so scooping, washing and cooking rice is an important practical life activity for us. Our rice goes into a handy bin in a low cupboard (too dark for photographing) and I leave a measuring cup and spoon permanently inside. Z is already an “expert” and loves to cook rice for the family. You can read about how he cooks rice here.
Other kitchen tools
My children do have other child-sized tools that are kept out of reach (for Z) at the moment. My policy is 100% supervision while the kids are working in the kitchen. And this means keeping more dangerous tools out of reach for now. They know how to ask me for it when they need it.
I’m going to confess now that the reason they are out of reach is not because it is my first option. They were all accessible to Z once upon a time. But one day, I left a bag of green beans on the counter. Z saw them and dashed for his knife, chopping board and stool so fast, that by the time I went to the kitchen he was already cutting up his first green bean unsupervised.
He is not yet able to fully wait for me to supervise before he embarks on kitchen work, and I am not comfortable with this. Perhaps when Z is older and ready, I will move these back to the lower drawer. (The mortar and pestle is not dangerous of course, just breakable, and I haven’t introduced the tool to him yet so they got forgotten and had to be included in this photo instead.)
I love how this simple strategy totally fits our family needs and constraints. It just goes to show that you don’t have to move a mountain or spend an arm and a leg to create a Montessori home for your children.
(What we did have to do, however, is get used to the new kitchen organization. My husband and I still open the wrong drawer and cupboard doors very often, evidence of getting older.)
Finally, I want to say that Montessori homes and spaces are anything but constant. They are an evolution. Ever changing to meet the needs of our children as they grow. Dynamic to meet the needs of our family in different seasons of our lives.
A prime example of this evolution is that as I’m typing this post, we are actually in the early stages of introducing glassware to Z. (You can see a couple of small glasses behind the mountain of plastic cups — those are in preparation for the day we “go glass”.) So far, so good! I can see us eventually phasing out all plastic-ware, but then for us this will be applicable for the entire family and not just because of the children.
Updated: I’ve posted a roundup of Montessori kitchens from all over the world. Click here to see if their setup inspires you!