Skip to main content

Play Kitchens and Montessori Homes

Practical life is the corner stone to Montessori at home. Giving children the opportunity to independently work at the practical tasks that they are draw to in their home is such a gift. Outside the Montessori world, it's sadly one that many families never give their children. 

Yet, mainstream parenting (and toy companies) seem to understand a child's desire to participate in practical tasks. Except, they don't make it real, or practical. A whole host of pretend toys is available for most practical tasks. You can get pretend vacuums, pretend cleaning tools, pretend watering cans, and pretend food. All pretend. All meant to entice a child to fulfill their natural desires to participate in practical tasks. But, do they really? Are play kitchens Montessori?

Are play kitchens Montessori? What is the role of a play kitchen in a Montessori home? Some thoughts on pretend play and practical work.

In Montessori, it's different. We invite children to real and purposeful work. In the words of Maria Montessori, "We are completely on the wrong track when we believe that expensive tows should keep a child happy...In reality it is the child...who is left to try and do things for himself, left to improvise toys from simple things and use his own ingenuity, who is fortunate. He is free to work in his own way and so he turns play into profitable work suited to his needs." So, what then is the role of the play kitchen in Montessori homes? 


At best, play kitchens are unnecessary. At worst, they are a distraction from the important work children have a drive to do. They are expensive, they are huge and they breed clutter. Kids don't need fancy, mini pretend versions of practical tasks. They just don't. They need to be invited to participate in real work. To really cook, to really serve, and to taste, smell and touch food.

And, I'm not just saying this from a Montessori parent perspective. Once upon a time we bought a play kitchen for Henry. Because, we thought that's what he really needed. And did he play with it? Sure. And did he also spend a great deal of time just dumping it out? Yes. And struggling to maintain order? Yes. And climbing it? Yes. It wasn't used for purposeful play nearly as much as we had hoped. And the more we learned about Montessori and invited him to practical tasks, the less and less it got used. Eventually, we sold it. 

In a Montessori Home

So, if you don't have a play kitchen, don't fall for the trap of getting one for pretend play. You don't need it. Instead, invite your child to participate in practical tasks in meaningful ways. This can be as easy as clearing a low cabinet in your kitchen and providing a nice stool. 

From a Montessori perspective, what should you do with a play kitchen if you already have one? To make a Montessori play kitchen, ditch the pretend food and tools. Replace them with real and meaningful practical work. This doesn't have to be a full blown set of kitchen utensils. Maybe it can be used to hold a few snacks, or a pitcher and cup of water. The shelves could be used to store a couple of real plates and dishes to be used at meal or snack times. Or, some real cleaning supplies - a basket with a couple of rags and a spray bottle, for example. Be creative, think of ways you can re-purpose it for practical work. 

And, if at the end of the day, it's just not possible to use for practical, real, meaningful work. Let it go. 

Are play kitchens Montessori? What is the role of a play kitchen in a Montessori home? Some thoughts on pretend play and practical work.

I know this sentiment isn't popular with everyone. That many people will argue that children need this pretend play, that their children love their play kitchens. But, I challenge you to really sit back and observe how they are playing with it. And then to invite them into your kitchen for those same tasks. Then, see if they are returning to the play. 

Are play kitchens Montessori? What is the role of a play kitchen in a Montessori home? Some thoughts on pretend play and practical work.

Do you have a play kitchen? Do you use it for practical purposes? 



Anonymous said…
YES! We recently moved cross-country and debated whether we should bring the huge, expensive, approximately 200-pound play kitchen (OK, it was not quite that heavy, but close). I watched closely, day after day, how my daughter played with it. Dump, sort, set a table, serve food. We sold the play kitchen and now her play food and accessories are on a bookcase. It gets just as much use, but we don't have to live with the giant play kitchen and we didn't have to move it. When she no longer plays with the play food, we won't agonize about how and when to part with a huge, expensive, heavy toy.

I realize your main point was on the value of real work in a real kitchen, but perhaps our experience will appeal to anyone on the fence about whether to buy a huge, expensive, heavy toy (emphasis on huge, expensive, and heavy).
Unknown said…
I love your reminder to be sure we are presenting wonderfully enriching and respectful experiences to young children. My question: how to set up a play kitchen with real life snack foods or drinks when I am working with 1-3 year olds in the same space? For instance the 1 yr old definitely needs lots of support to manage pouring a drink or getting appropriate amounts of real food and the older children are able to manage more independence after I do a little modeling for them. I really want to set up our play kitchen with real items, but am not sure how to manage it so that it is used in meaningful ways and doesn't become a messy science experiment! Suggestions??

Popular Posts

The Ultimate Montessori Toy List -- Birth to Five -- UPDATED 2020

When you are interested in Montessori, it can be difficult to know exactly what types of products you should get for your home. Or which types of "Montessori" materials are really worth the price. There are no rules about types of products can use the name Montessori which can add to the confusion. Not to mention, every toy manufacturer slaps the word "educational" on the package for good measure! 2020 UPDATE: This list is updated for another year! Enjoy a variety of Montessori friendly finds from both major retailers and smaller shops!  So, with this post, I'm going to try to help with this confusion! Here's a list of Montessori-friendly toys and materials for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  First, let's clarify that there is no such thing as a "Montessori toy." Montessori never created toys, but only works for classroom settings. While there are many works that I recommend for home school use, you won't find these

Sensitive Periods from Birth to 6 - A Chart and Guide

Dr. Maria Montessori spent her life observing, studying, and writing about children. During her lifetime of work she discovered that young children move through a series of special times when they are particularly attracted to specific developmental needs and interests. She called these times, sensitive periods. During the sensitive period, children learn skills related to the sensitive period with ease. They don't tire of that work, but seek it, crave it and need it. When the sensitive period passes, this intense desire is gone, never to return.  That doesn't mean the skill is lost forever once the sensitive period is over. Instead, it just means that it will take a more conscious effort to learn. As Dr. Montessori explains,  This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. "A child learns to adjust himself and make acquisitions in his sensitive periods. These are like a beam that lights interiorly a battery that furnishes energy. It is this sensibility which enables

Montessori Toddler: Favorite Toys and Activities 18 to 20 months

I've been putting off this post for a little while because I felt a little disappointed that I didn't have more to share. See, Teddy just isn't that into materials, especially those on the shelf. He tends to return to a couple of favorites over and over again and ignore all other attempts at shelf work. But, really that's my own adult feelings getting in the way of Teddy's own interests, and developmental path.  It's also me subconsciously valuing fine motor skills and stillness as more important than gross motor play and movement. I working hard not to do that, and want to normalize that all toddlers are different. All children have different interests and that concentration doesn't have to mean sitting still for long stretches of time.  This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. With all that said, here are some of Teddy's favorites over the last couple of months. Favorite Montessori Toys 18 to 20 Months I'm listing the toys that have be