We have already mentioned in past couple weeks how much kids love to play with food and how to expand activities using play food. When you add to a mix that kids really love to spend time playing with their parents, you end up with kids under your legs for most of the time while you cook! Let’s take a look at how you can turn kitchen play area into safe place for your child.
I’m sure you have been there: trying to make a lunch and little ones coming in and trying to help you cook! We will share how to turn your kitchen into a play area. Of course, safety comes first!
Real Life Items are Great Toys
I must admit: we have too many toys in our house. Mostly not because we buy them – in our expat community we are truly blessed to have friends to give us toys and books when their children outgrow them, or when friends leave China for good. So, from time to time, I rotate toys and also at least a year I take all the toys out to find dresses and shoes for dolls, pieces of legos we’ve been missing, decide what stays and what goes (some have to be throw away as they are broken, some we give away).
However, with every child I noticed that all the toys are interesting for them only for a certain period of time. And the real life items, the ones that we often consider not child-appropriate or dangerous, can entertain them for much longer periods of time. I have been carefully selecting real life items that are safe to play with and introducing them to my children. It made the whole experience of learning more interesting for them and, of course, fun!
How to turn your kitchen into a safe place for your children to play?
One of our most favorite places to play in our house is our kitchen. Here in China kitchens are not big, so there isn’t much space, but even then I always find a way to engage my children there while I cook or bake.
Here are few easy steps:
- Safety first. – First and foremost, take a good look at your kitchen and if you have any drawers with thing that shouldn’t be in your children’s reach, either remove those and replace with the safer ones (I will list them in the steps below), or baby-proof them with special lock or temporarily with scotch tape.
- Designate a play area for your child which is as far from the stove/oven as possible. In our case it was a little hard because the size of the kitchen is small. But constant supervision for young children is a must, so I did and do well in this regard and make sure my children don’t end up near those.
- Set aside safe kitchen items for play. Here is a list of things your child can play with: silicon cupcake forms (individual ones are better), plastic cups, plastic lids, plastic ladles, pots and lids that don’t break, plastic or metal plates, colanders. I usually make sure that whatever I give my children can’t get stuck in their mouth or push inside too deep to hurt them. Hence, spoons are out of question.
- Limit the area. Bring your child to the kitchen in a bouncy chair, stroller or simply sit him on the mat. It is harder with crawlers and walkers, so usually for us pram and having an older sibling around worked.
- Start a conversation. Before you hand an object to the child, introduce it to him. Even for infant talking about it and showing what you can do works. They will end up biting on those anyway, but it helps you to keep a conversation with your child.
- Strict supervision. I have to mention again that playing in the kitchen requires strict supervision. Kitchen is kitchen, it is not your baby’s room or playground. Things sometimes get out of hand, children insist on climbing places. And by all means, don’t put things like bumbo with your child in it on the kitchen counter – I really had to mention that one because after talking with a friend who was thrilled how well my children are with me in the kitchen, she put hers on the kitchen counter in a bumbo seat and it nearly ended in a very tragic incident. If you are using a seat or a stroller – secure them in a way that your child doesn’t end up falling out or climbing out or grabbing thing that are supposed to be out of his reach.
- Involve kids in cooking. Older children (in our case – 1.5 + years old and up) enjoy helping out. So giving your child something besides kitchen cutlery would help him practice hand-eye coordination. I use some things like cereal, flower and liquids. Yes, it gets messy. So for that you can put a plastic cover or an old sheet to contain the mess. My now 6 year old loves helping me pour and mix ingredients, as well as I am slowly introducing her to the stove and the mini-oven we own. But we have cooked together simple things so many times and it always saved me time and energy and I didn’t have to worry about a child being in another room.
- Invest in baby carrier. Last, but not the least, invest into a good baby carrier – those are awesome for being hands-free especially when you are unsure whether your kitchen can be safe enough for your child.
I can’t help but emphasize that when children are with you while you are doing chores, they don’t only get to observe you doing it, they also learn if given simple tasks and materials to work with. And of course, there is less stress and more joy in the air. I can’t vouch that every child will enjoy playing in the kitchen, but my 3 children aged 6 years old, 2.5 years old and 7 months old all enjoyed and enjoy playing in the kitchen for as long as I am there.
In Less Toys. More Play. article series we share ideas how to reduce toy consumerism, unclutter child’s rooms and bring more engaged play to our children.
Varya blogs at CreativeWorldofVarya.com about creativity, craft, parenting, cooking for kids and with kids, moral education, spirituality and multiculturalism. She is a mom of 3 and an early education expert.
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