I’ve always been a big fan of the Montessori way of teaching kids’ life skills which includes learning to cook, using real kitchen utensils, and learning to be independent from a young age. I know a lot of people who ban their kids from entering kitchens due to the “dangers” lurking within, but there is honestly so much to learn in the kitchen!
Toddlers are much more capable than we give them credit for. Letting them help with kitchen tasks teaches them practical life skills, responsibilities, fine motor skills, and how to manage “dangerous” equipment like knives early on in a supervised environment. At 2 years of age, they are actually capable of helping with the cooking, doing the dishes, setting up their own plate and utensils and even little tasks like getting a glass of water on their own (just look up YouTube for vidoes of Montessori kids examples).
The kitchen has never been off limits for Miss A in our household. Ever since she could crawl, she was in there! I should point out that she was never ever left alone at any time, and also wasn’t a terribly destructive kid (if she was I’m guessing I would’ve felt differently about letting her in the kitchen!). One of her favourite early activities was sorting out the drawer that contained the plastic bags for the bins, as well the shelf that contained all the pantry items like the dog food and tuna tins. When she turned 1 year old, she got into toy cooking sets and would pretend to cook alongside us. At this young age, you can just let them shadow you and tell them what they can help with as you go along.
Apparently cooking with your kids also tends to make them less fussy with food. Well…clearly that didn’t work for us but maybe it will for your kid. Cooking with them also teaches them how foods look like whole because, you know, they don’t just grow off the tree in nugget and chip form. I always found it funny how every time we went to the market, Miss A would be yelling out all the names of all the vegetables she saw as if she were a pro at eating them when in reality she barely ate any of them.
Somewhere between 1 and 2 years of age, Miss A started helping out with cooking simple items like scrambled eggs and making homemade play dough (all on the hot stove). Obviously at this age she also started getting into the standard toddler activities of baking cookies and making smoothies. We have a little step stool we got from Ikea which helps her reach the sink and counter tops. For knives, we started off with kid-sized butter knives. She started practicing her cutting skills on play dough and soft foods, and also learned how to spread butter on bread (not easy at all for them!).
We got her her first pair of scissors (that actually cut, yes) at about 2.5 years of age I think. She also started learning to get her own bowls and cups from a cupboard full of breakables. We tend to give her ceramic bowls and glass cups because they are heavier and less likely to tip over compared to plastic. What I’ve also seen some other families do is have a low shelf where a toddler can easily access his/her own dining ware.
In the picture above, she is 20 months old and helping Grandma wash the veggies.Below she is 3 years old, using a serrated vegetable knife (sharp tip) to cut strawberries.
It’s important to move slow and steady with the knife skills. Only move up to the sharper knives when they have had good practice with other types of duller knives. The whole point is that you don’t want them to be 8 years old and using a sharp knife for the first time and cutting themselves due to a lack of practice (and some fear) which…is what actually happened to me. I love giving Miss A the skills to be independent as I see what joy it brings to her to be able to do things herself. And ultimately, it does make life easier for us parents too that she can do things on her own.
I admit that lately I’ve gotten a bit lazy with involving her in food preparation though. My husband is definitely way more patient at involving Miss A in kitchen tasks than me. For me, sometimes I just want to chuck out a meal as quickly as possible without kids around my feet! I guess I might involve her more again when Miss E is ready to join in too. I am really hoping that Miss E will be a good eater and that she will influence Miss A to try the foods she is eating. Nothing like a bit of peer pressure to get the appetite going!
So the next time your toddler wanders into the kitchen, maybe think twice before automatically asking them to get out!