Enter any play kitchen and you will most likely see an elaborate tea party with teddy bears, cakes being baked, or wooden veggies chopped for a salad. This play is the dynamic work of the child and kitchen toys are their tools for discovery. Imitating real life through play allows children to engage in the daily tasks of living and begin to understand the skills needed as they grow.
Kitchen play offers purposeful and deliberate tasks that follow a logical sequence and use a variety of senses, movement, and language skills. Consciously incorporating kitchen play into your child’s daily rhythms can enrich your child’s sense of life, help them feel more grounded in their environment, and at home in their bodies. By selecting beautiful child-sized versions of household items and bringing consciousness to how we as parents and caregivers approach these tasks, we can truly open up the child’s imagination so it is cooking on all burners.
The Benefits of Play Kitchens are Bountiful
From enhancing fine motor skills to developing social skills, the play kitchen is a developmental work horse. As children take on different roles in their play kitchen, they freely express their creativity, take risks, and experiment. With each new play food or utensil, little ones begin to name and recognize new words and actions. They can work on counting as they drop little pretend peas into a soup. Or think about timing for when their dinner party will start. Planning a tea party takes thought and organization, for example, who will sit next to the crocodile and who will do the dishes! When friends play in the kitchen together, social skills are enhanced as everyone works together to prepare a feast and communication is needed with each step. This working together develops a sense of teamwork and the ability to share.
Keep Stirring the Pot: Adding More Fun to the Play Kitchen
Although most children will jump into this type of play with very little prompting, it is good to have a few ways to extend and shift the play. Although keeping the toys simple is always the goal, adding new ingredients can freshen things up. One of our favorite ways to enliven the play is by using Grapat wooden toys. Loose parts stimulate the imagination and little chefs can turn orange cones into carrots, eggs can be rainbow colored, and flower petals can be sprinkles on imaginary ice cream cones. Add some other wooden food sets like our beautiful Sabo collections to vary the color assortment of your play pantry and keep the play fresh. Incorporating utensils to “cut” things and scoop will also extend the play. Emphasize the need for cleanliness in the kitchen by adding cloths, napkins, sponges as well as a small broom to sweep up little messes. And finally, adding a bowl of water adds a real-life element to the kitchen and enhances sensory play.
Meals for Years: Playing with the Play Kitchen Throughout Childhood
A solid and classic play kitchen will grow with little cooks. When a toddler first encounters a play kitchen, they might only want to open and close the cabinets but by the next year they might be placing ingredients in a soup pot to make a pretend soup. Once they are school-age they might create a menu for a bustling imaginary restaurant. Children will approach this kind of play and imitate what they see at different points in their development and at their own pace. Toddlers will love mimicking all the moves you make and will begin to pretend to mix, slice, peel, stir, and pour tea. As children enter preschool, they might begin to toss a salad, flip a pancake, squeeze lemonade, adjust the heat on the stove, and turn the ‘water’ on for cleaning up. With each year, meals and kitchen rituals will expand. Parties will grow from 2 stuffed animals to 10, and instead of cooking a soup for themselves, they might make a soup for the soup kitchen.
After all the cooking is finished and the play kitchen is cleaned up and put away for the day, children will have a sense of pride and confidence in their creations and know that they are safe to make mistakes, explore, expand, and act out experiences that they see in real life and those that they don’t. And there is absolutely no question that they will end up cooking up a whole lot of fun!