I remember 3 years ago (feels like 30 years ago!) when we first began implementing Montessori at home. I was totally new to Montessori and didn’t quite know where to begin. I read some books and started a year-long course, but in the meantime Zac was growing up fast so I pretty much threw any activity I could on the proverbial wall to see what would stick.
Ultimately, I discovered that the kitchen had become Zac’s favourite place to hang out as a toddler. I think it was because I hung out there all the time — prepping food, cooking, having a snack, making coffee — plus there’s just soooo much to explore! He clung to me like superglue during dinner prep time and I needed a solution so I could prep in peace. He was desperate to help out in the kitchen!
So one day, I put on my bravest Montessori face and put him in charge of transferring some apples that I had cut from a small chopping board into serving bowls. (This was the first ever Montessori thing I did as a Montessori mom and back then he was still in a traditional strap-me-down high chair.)
He gave me about 30 full minutes of peace. It was then (with jaw on ground) that I pretty much decided Montessori is the real deal!
We did lots of activities when Zac was a toddler, but the majority of them were in the kitchen. I love every single minute we have worked alongside each other in the kitchen — from young toddler strapped in high chair to the strapping 4 year old he is today.
Since kitchen-hood was our first Montessori love, in this post I will share with you 50 ways your toddler or preschooler can help in the kitchen.
Before we proceed, I want to provide my thoughts on a few commonly asked questions because I know this might be on the top of your mind:
1. Can my child can start participating in the kitchen as young as toddlerhood? Yes! Toddlerhood was exactly when we began all this kid in the kitchen business. We’re certainly not talking about advanced knife skills or anything like that, but your toddler can definitely help to wash or scrub vegetables, transfer vegetables from the wash bowl to a colander, removing celery string, or tearing greens.
2. Will letting my child work in the kitchen really help me or just add to the headache? I will say that it depends on how you tackle it and practice makes perfect. For our family, not only am I able to prep in peace now, but these sessions have become rather zen-like peaceful for me. At 4 years old, Zac is now a very helpful sous-chef, helping with anything from peeling carrots to gathering bowls for me.
3. What do I need to do or have in order to make this a real success? To me, the keys to success are (1) to have a kitchen that is set-up for the child, (2) child-sized tools, (3) allowing extra time for food prep, and (4) planning what your child will be doing alongside with you. Gosh, this question needs a whole post on its own, so do consider subscribing to my email list in the form below so you won’t miss out on any updates (some of my readers tell me my posts get lost in Facebook or Pinterest!)
So without further ado, here is a list of ways that your kids can help in the kitchen. These are all things that Zac and I have done together (or plan to do in the future). I’ve tried to sort them by age based on when we did them. I’ve also put asterisks to indicate which were Zac’s favourites (1 star being the least favourite, 3 stars being the most favourite; of course this will be different for each child).
Always remember to supervise your children and use your own judgment to choose tasks that are suitable for them. Safety is the primary concern so don’t be afraid to hold off on a task if you feel they are not ready. Zac and I typically work right next to each other so I can supervise him and finish prepping for dinner all in one go! (see photo above)
Toddler (1-3 years old)
At this age, anything involving water is sure to be a big hit. I remember helping him wear a plastic apron and letting him go to town with a big bowl of pre-cut vegetables. He washed a good variety of vegetables too, to build up a strong sensorial foundation.
1. Cutting a banana or soft fruit with a butter knife or blunt plastic knife***
2. Spinning the salad with a salad spinner (hand-crank type or press-down type)*
3. Transferring vegetables from wash bowl to colander***
4. Rinsing vegetables**
5. Scrubbing vegetables using a scrubber* (I just realized we’ve been using a dish brush all this time!)
6. Mashing bananas, potatoes or hard-boiled eggs with a masher*** (make sure all hot foods are cooled down first)
7. Tearing greens***
8. Removing celery string with fingers*** (create a “starter” peel, then let them pull the rest. So. Much. Fun!)
9. Peeling a hard-boiled egg*** (make sure it’s cooled down first)
3 years old
Some of the activities below can actually be done when the child is younger. We just didn’t get to them until Zac was 3 years old. If your child shows an interest (also please use your own judgment if the activity involves more dangerous tools) you can always let them try and if there is too much frustration then you can save the task for later.
10. Peeling a tangerine**
11. Spraying and wiping the dining table*
12. Setting the table*
13. Pouring water into glasses to set the table using a pitcher**
14. Scooping a cup of rice into the rice cooker***
15. Rinsing the rice***
16. Peeling a carrot or cucumber with a peeler*** (This Y-shaped peeler works so much better for Zac than the traditional swivel peeler. I highly recommend it!)
17. Juicing an orange or lemon with a juicer***
18. Spreading jam on toast** (make sure the toast isn’t too hot!)
19. Sprinkling salt or pepper with fingers***
20. Grinding salt or pepper with a grinder***
21. Grinding herbs with a mortar and pestle**
22. Cracking eggs* (Don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly with soap after doing this.)
23. Whisking eggs with a whisk***
24. Skewering vegetables or fruits**
25. Washing the dishes**
26. Plucking herbs*
27. Forming meatballs* (Don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly with soap after doing this.)
28. Transferring yogurt into a popsicle maker using a spoon*** (the end result of enjoying a frozen yogurt popsicle a couple of hours later is definitely 5 stars!)
29. Mixing and kneading dough**
30. Cutting an apple with an apple slicer*
31. Cutting an apple (or other fruits and vegetables) with a steak knife or proper knife*** (Zac has actually outgrown using a steak knife to cut everything. With frequent use, (and always with supervision) he has actually learned to discern all by himself that a steak knife isn’t the best for cutting all things and prefers a proper knife to cut some foods.)
32. Grinding coffee beans with a manual coffee grinder***
4 years old and above
Zac turned 4 years old this month! There are so many things we haven’t tried doing together in the kitchen and I can’t wait to try them out with him. (I’m actually pretty sure some of these can be done easily by a 3 year old, but oh well.) I’m putting links below so you’ll know what I’m talking about, but we haven’t tried most of them yet.
34. Beating eggs with a manual egg beater
35. Scooping melons with a melon baller
36. Scooping batter or ice cream using a cookie scoop
37. Making toast (don’t forget to tell the kids the equipment may be hot!)
38. Shelling peas
39. Using a garlic press
40. Grating cheese or zesting lemons
41. Greasing a pan
42. Breaking spaghetti in half
43. Using a vegetable spiralizer
44. Making homemade pasta with a pasta maker
45. Separating yolk from an egg? (This will be interesting!)
46. Slicing bread (I wonder what knife he could use.)
47. Loading the dishwasher
48. Wiping dishes
49. Forming patties (don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly with soap afterwards!)
50. Brushing pastry with a pastry brush
51. Hulling strawberries with a strawberry huller
So there you go! I am positive this is not all there is that a toddler and preschooler can do, but I hope this will give you a wide enough variety and place to start.
I’m thinking of writing another post to explain how we have set up our kitchen for maximum child independence, and our favourite tools in the kitchen (plus the tools we cannot live without, omg).
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