Everything you need to set up your toddler’s play kitchen

Toys that replicate real-life scenarios have become a popular option for parents to help encourage creative play, while also helping children learn much-needed life skills. One of the most popular is a toy kitchen. While cooking can be a chore for us adults, your little ones will love mixing together their favourite recipes. 

Whether you’re buying your little one a play kitchen for a birthday, holiday or just because, you’re no doubt excited by all the possibilities this toy has to offer. They can be turned into functioning models for little people, or left as-is to inspire a world of creative play. 

Of course, finding the right toys for kids can get a little overwhelming. Here are some tips for cutting through the confusion: what you need, what you don’t and the splurges that will make your child’s experience just that little bit more special.

The value of a functional play kitchen

Have you thought about making their miniature kitchen functional as well? This is a popular choice in Montessori households, as it’s an easy way to nurture practical life skills. Don’t worry if this doesn’t sound like the right fit for your family – there’s more about using a play kitchen later on!

The Montessori method is all about teaching independence – something all families can find value in, whether or not you are following that parenting method. A play kitchen can show children how to take responsibility for their own belongings and helps build a preschooler’s fine motor skills. 

Skills that children can learn by using a functional play kitchen are:

  • Washing and drying their hands.
  • Fetching a glass of water.
  • Preparing simple food, e.g. cutting fruit with a safety knife or pouring a bowl of cereal.
  • Setting their own place at the dining table.

How to turn a play kitchen into a working model

Four steps can quickly make a play kitchen functional: 

  1. Start by installing a small water dispenser in place of the fake tap (just watch the water level as there is no drainage). 
  2. The ‘stove top’ can be replaced with a cutting board for prepping food. 
  3. Shelves or cupboards can be used to hold your child’s cutlery and crockery.
  4. Depending on your child’s age, you can also add a help-yourself snack station. 

The power of imaginative play

If you’d prefer to keep your toddler’s kitchen for fostering imaginative play, there’s a world of possibilities for their development. You’ll soon find that a lot of your child’s pretend play revolves around their kitchen. Whether they’re preparing a ‘meal’ for your family or feeding a hungry horde as Gordon Ramsay’s apprentice, there is no end to the scenarios they can act out.

Open-ended play in a play kitchen is brilliant for encouraging creativity. It’s an excellent way to build your toddler’s functional language, help them develop flexible problem-solving skills, improve their teamwork and social interaction, and enhance their visual recognition and planning abilities. It helps them understand the world around them by acting out familiar situations like preparing, cooking and serving food, or running a ‘restaurant’. 

Look for a play kitchen with these features

There are so many options for play kitchens on the market these days, at all price points. A few things to look out for when choosing a play kitchen for your child are:

  • Working knobs and doors. Bonus points if they click realistically!
  • Safety. Your child will spend many hours playing with their kitchen, often without you being in direct sight. You don’t want to risk it tipping on them, jamming their fingers, or having sharp edges that could pose a danger.
  • Plenty of storage.
  • If you are going to want to move it to different areas in your house, a play kitchen on casters is helpful.
  • Make sure the height of all the features is accessible for your child.

Accessories all play kitchens need

Try to stock your child’s kitchen with mini versions of all the bits and bobs you enjoy using in your own kitchen. Here are some accessories your kids will love having available to play with:

  • Miniature pots and pans and other cooking equipment, like a spatula and wooden spoons.
  • Play food – there’s a great selection of both felt and wooden pretend food available now. A fruit-cutting set with a wooden knife is a great way to teach kitchen safety.
  • Dress-up costumes, such as an apron and chef’s hat. Bonus points if it’s personalised for your mini chef.
  • Other fabric items – think oven mitts, pot holders and tea towels.
  • Plates and cutlery for enjoying their creations.
  • Add realistic props like an old phone for taking orders.
  • Play dough, cookie cutters and mini rolling pins so they can get baking! 

Splurge with these bonuses

Play kitchens have become so popular that you can now buy vinyl stickers to personalise the colour scheme and ‘materials’ of generic play kitchens. Alternatively, you can DIY by painting your play kitchen to suit your decor. 

Some kitchens offer working lights and sounds, like light-up stovetops and beeping microwaves. These can add extra realism to your play set up.

Make it educational

There are great ways to sneak some extra learning into your dramatic play setup. Store food in labelled containers, with both words and a photo of the item on the label. This way, you can increase your child’s vocabulary and word recognition. Place a label on both a basket containing the items and their storage spot so your child learns where the items belong.

Understanding where all the items in their kitchen belong helps teach them a sense of ownership and responsibility.

Play kitchens have become a favourite big-ticket item for children in recent years, and with so many benefits, it’s easy to see why. Whether you choose to make your play kitchen functional or set it up solely for imaginative play, they are brilliant for nurturing a toddler’s creativity and encouraging independent play, giving busy parents a few minutes of peace in their day. 

There are lots of accessories and decorative options to choose from, depending on how you choose to use your play kitchen. However you set up your kitchen, you’re guaranteeing your toddler years of fun and learning.

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