Greetings from Florida! For those of you who don’t know me, I was a Lower Elementary guide and then the Director of Admissions at Greenspring before moving to Florida. I have begun this series on Montessori in the Home to help parents find creative ways to implement Montessori practices into day-to-day activities at home. My daughter, Lila, is now three and a half and loves to work in the kitchen!
Lila has been an active participant in the kitchen since she was very small. Early activities included stirring batter, washing and scrubbing fruits and vegetables, peeling clementines and bananas, pouring coffee beans into the grinder, and dipping bread into eggs for french toast.
These activities help build the essential skills of coordination, concentration, order, and independence. The work also exposes the child to tasting new foods. Lila was always more interested in eating something that she helped to prepare.
As her fine motor coordination increased, Lila started shucking corn, rolling dough, peeling and slicing eggs and bananas with special tools, and peeling carrots and cucumbers with a peeler and wavy chopper. Now Lila is also slicing vegetables with an acrylic knife, grating cheese, and juicing oranges. Child-size gardening gloves allow Lila to stir soup and flip pancakes without fear of touching the hot pan.
Involving a toddler at dinner time when everyone is tired can be challenging. If I have a few extra minutes earlier in the day, I will prepare part of the meal while Lila is still at school. This will allow me to focus more energy on her participation during the meal preparation. Sometimes I plan our joint projects for the weekends when I have more energy.
There are other ways besides cooking that children can help. Setting the table, sweeping up crumbs, and placing dirty dishes in the dishwasher are other ways that little ones can contribute. Montessorians know that children’s self-esteem comes from making meaningful contributions, rather than receiving compliments. So allowing children to be active participants in the family is a tremendous gift!
The single most important tool you will need to allow your child to participate in the kitchen is a safe stool. We put the “Learning Tower” on our baby gift registry before Lila was born. Three and a half years later, we are still using it every day. When Lila was very small, we wrapped the sides with saran wrap so she couldn’t fall out. Soon she was able to climb in and out independently. The adjustable height allows the stool to grow with her. And you don’t need to worry about her falling off a regular stool.
I have seen some great “hacks” on the internet for converting an Ikea stool into a learning tower, for a much lower cost. If you’re handy, this is definitely worth a try!
As much as your child will enjoy helping prepare food, she will also be highly motivated to eat independently. When Lila was very small, she sat in a Bumbo or high chair. As soon as she was able to sit in a chair without falling off, we moved her to a toddler-size table and chair. (The table was bought from Ikea with the legs chopped to make it shorter.)
While she still sat in a high chair for family dinner at the dining table, all other meals and snacks were eaten at her special table. Soon, Lila began rejecting the high chair. That’s when we switched to a booster seat in a regular dining chair.
Montessori Services makes child-size glass dishes that are very sturdy. While I don’t like to replicate too many Montessori lessons in the home (as I like them to remain special at school and be presented by the experts!), I did invest in two small glass pitchers so that Lila could practice pouring. I have a full list of recommended supplies below.
In order to further increase independence, you can make child-size dishes, utensils, kitchen tools, and cleaning supplies available at the child’s level. This can be a special shelf or just a lower kitchen cabinet that you dedicate for your child’s kitchen items.
You might consider creating a water and snack station on a low shelf or table. By having water and healthy snacks available at all times, your child can help herself to food when she is hungry. You can also dedicate a low shelf of the refrigerator for your child’s use and keep liquids in smaller containers that are easy to pour.
Don’t feel like you need to tackle all of this at once. Try picking just one new system to implement in your home and see how it works!
I have also written about setting up a Montessori bedroom and a Montessori bathroom. Next I will tackle the play area! Questions, comments, suggestions? Email me at email@example.com.
There are many wonderful tools to help young children work safely in the kitchen.
Some of my favorite resources include:
Some of my favorite products include:
There are many great blogs showing a DIY learning tower, such as this one:
Non-skid cutting board
Non-skid mixing bowl
Spatula, mixing spoon, scrapers, whisk
Child-size pitcher, glasses, plates, and utensils
Margaret Jarrell has a long history with Greenspring Montessori School and she currently provides Administrative Support. Margaret taught for more than a decade, most recently for five years in our own Lower Elementary Program, prior to taking on the role of Director of Admissions. In 2015, she, her husband, and her newborn daughter moved to Florida after her husband received a wonderful employment opportunity. We were so sad to see her go, so eventually, we worked out a way for Margaret to work part-time remotely. She now turns her considerable expertise to support administrative staff, guides, parents, and prospective families. Learn more about Margaret.