By Julia Niego
In this four-part series, early childhood educational therapist and Montessori mom, Julia Niego, details how to set up each room in your home to create a warm, Montessori-inspired environment where your little one can thrive. We’ve already covered the bedroom, the living room and entryway and now we’ll discuss the kitchen.
“[Babies and toddlers] seem to be more interested in the objects their parents use than they are in their toys. They really like to work alongside us as we prepare food…get ready for visitors and the like. When we allow more time, set things up for success, and lower our expectations of the outcome, we teach our young child a lot about being a contributing member of the family.”
- Simone Davies, The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being
@honeyfur.montessori.design/Repost from @annhbehappy
The kitchen is supposed to be the heart of our home and yet babies and toddlers can often be found gripping the other side of a baby gate while we rush to finish cooking and cleaning on the other side. In the Montessori home children are meaningfully involved in eating, drinking, food preparation and tidying up even from a very young age. Perhaps more than any other space, the Montessori principle that children should be in contact with real and practical everyday items becomes true in the kitchen.
Leaving a cabinet or drawer with safe materials for this exploration is a wonderful way to let your child get their hands on real materials.
@honeyfur.montessori.design/repost from @loveverybaby
Keep a dining set, including a child-sized plate, spoon and fork and cup and placemat on a shelf at your child’s reach so they can watch and then participate in setting their place at the table.
@honeyfur.montessori.design/repost from @mamamonia
Many modern Montessori families do choose to use a highchair so that their child can be included in family meals. The best highchairs pull right up to the table and can be adapted over time to become your child’s chair.
@honeyfur.montessori.design/repost from @theottohouse
Snacks—and some meals—are eaten at a low table and chair. Montessori Cube Chairs are perfect. These can be purchased on various sites though I recommend handmade versions such as the one pictured below (by Naturababy).
As they grow your child can set their place, carry his or her own food to the table, and wipe up with a small sponge. A small broom should be provided for cleaning up crumbs. As your child grows he or she can participate in preparing and cleaning up snack—slicing bananas with an egg slicer, spreading nut butter on crackers with a child-sized butter knife and clearing dishes when finished.
A child-sized cooking station is a wonderful way to allow children to mimic us in the kitchen when they are not quite ready to actually join in. It can be adaptable to your aesthetic—whether you choose to go with a Montessori infant and toddler furniture company such as Sprout, a flea market find, or a classic IKEA hack like the one above. A few vegetables, real or cloth, child-sized pots, pans and cooking utensils can be set up on a shelf. A large basin and “splat mat” can be set nearby so children can help with simple food prep and clean up such as scrubbing a potato or two, rinsing vegetables or washing their dishes.
A water pouring station with a child-sized pitcher and cup is an excellent way to encourage independence. Remember to provide a tray, a towel—and I recommend a child-sized mop! Water will spill, and cleaning up is a part of the process.
Julia Niego, MS holds a BA in Behavioral Neuroscience from Colgate University, an MS in Neuroscience and Education from Columbia University/Teacher’s College, and professional certification as an Educational Therapist through University of California Riverside. Over the past decade she has founded and developed curricula for Montessori preschools, directed a local network of Montessori-at-home playgroups, and consults on progressive approaches as the founder of Neuleaph Child & Brain, LLC. She continues to pursue her fascination for the intersection of early learning and the child brain, and draws deeply on the Montessori approach as an early childhood educational therapist with a private neurospychologically-based tutoring organization in NYC.