Working in the kitchen is great for developing fine motor skills, independence, and concentration—plus, great bonding time.
As a Montessori teacher, I could never pick a favorite type of work in the classroom—but I must admit, I have a soft spot for "food prep" work. There is something magical about watching tiny people create their own culinary masterpieces with complete independence. Maybe it's the look of satisfaction on their faces or the way they offer to share their carefully prepared snack with a friend, but it's incredible to observe.
The best part is that this is something you can totally recreate at home. Children are naturally interested in preparing (and eating!) food so empowering them to help in the kitchen can be a wonderful first step in bringing Montessori into your home.
Creating a Montessori kitchen can sound daunting, but it can really be as simple or comprehensive as you like. Here are some easy ways to create an inspiring Montessori kitchen in your home.
1. Set up a workspace
Until your child is tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, they will need a work space. There are many ways to set this up, but the important thing is that it's comfortable for your child and they can access it by themselves.
Some Montessori families use a play kitchen (this site has beautiful options), but present it to your little as an actual workspace, rather than a toy for pretend play.
Another option is to use a child-size table in your kitchen area and let the kids do food prep work while sitting. The table should be small enough that they can get in and out of the chair independently.
Some Montessori families also use a learning tower or similar kitchen helper to helps kids work at the kitchen counter alongside the grownups. This works really well for smaller kitchens where a more elaborate child workspace may not be an option and is also useful for allowing you to work alongside your child to cook great meals together.
2. Implement child-sized tools
Providing your child with tools made just for their little hands will allow them to be both safe and competent in the kitchen. For Small Hands has a wonderful assortment of children's kitchen tools that you can pick out together. Some good ones to start with are a chopper, cutting board, vegetable scrub brush, spreading knife, small whisk, and mixing bowl.
Montessori classrooms also always have kids use an apron for food prep work. This keeps their clothes clean, but it also helps define the beginning and end of the work cycle. They'll put on an apron when they begin, and keep it on until they have completely cleaned up the work.
3. Clear out a low shelf or drawer for supplies
Encouraging independence and facilitating order are two guiding principles in any Montessori space. For a Montessori kitchen, this means giving your child access to the dishes and supplies they will need so clear out a low shelf or kitchen drawer.
Keeping their dishes within their reach will allow them to help set the table and help put clean dishes away. Similarly, keeping kitchen tools on a low shelf lets them complete the whole process independently from setting up to cleaning up.
Some families also choose to designate a refrigerator drawer for their child or include some shelf-stable snacks on their low shelf so they can choose a snack for themselves when they want.
4. Set up cleaning supplies
In a Montessori classroom, cleaning up and putting away a piece of work is just as important as the work itself. Children are expected to leave the work they use as they found it. The same goes for food prep—washing any dishes and tools used, folding aprons, and putting the work back on the shelf where they found it.
To be successful with this, children need you to show them how to clean up, and they need easy access to cleaning supplies that they're allowed to use.
The first time you present any skill, such as chopping fruit or spreading peanut butter, to your child, show them the complete process—where to find the supplies, how to carry them carefully to the workspace, how to do the work, and how to clean up.
Keep things like a sponge, a broom and dustpan, and small towels on the low shelf. Many young children take great pride in cleaning up after themselves when they are given the tools to do so freely.
While it can be hard, try not to jump in as soon as a spill is made. Watch and see what they do. If you ask them to wipe it up, they may resist, but if you just watch, they may do it of their own accord with satisfaction.
These four things are really all you need to set up a Montessori kitchen for your little one. Working in the kitchen is great for developing fine motor skills, independence, and concentration, and it can also be a wonderful bonding time for you and your child if you enjoy cooking.
As you begin, try to keep it simple. Introduce more skills as your child's abilities develop. Watch to see which parts of being in the kitchen they most enjoy. Do they love preparing snacks all by themselves? Do they prefer to bake alongside you? Each child is different and you can tailor your space to fit their unique wants and needs.