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January 17, 2018

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? 


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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??