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The holiday season is rolling in and a common toddler gift may be a play kitchen. I know it’s at the forefront of our Christmas-list for our 18-month-old. At Funk’s Wooden Wonders we sell some gorgeous play kitchens made by Milton and Goose, MIDMINI and Ferm LIVING Kids. We sell play kitchen accessories as well, everything from wooden food sets to pots and pans, salt and pepper to a seltzer siphon. It’s all quite adorable and MIDMINI comes in a range of gorgeous color options. However, as not only the Founder of Funk’s Wooden Wonders, but as well a mother and lover of natural parenting methods and writer of this blog, I believe I mustn’t sell you on Play Kitchens as a “must-have” but instead be transparent about the different schools of thoughts so you can make a considerate decision on whether to invest in a play kitchen for your little. I use the word invest because they are quite pricey.
From a Montessori approach, Maria Montessori believes in purposeful play and real-life experiences. This means, this approach believes you should let children in your household kitchen, supply them with real kitchen utensils and dishware and teach them how to properly use and handle such items. Thus, teaching them a life skill whilst giving them something to do! Rather than pretending to mix up pancakes, you should actually teach them how to do so. It’s an amazing approach and one which Funk’s Wooden Wonders was founded upon at large — believe in your child’s capabilities!
From another perspective we can harp on the beauties and benefits of pretend play. Pretend play is an innocent and safe way for children to act out and explore behaviors which they are intrigued by yet may not be quite ready to do themselves. (It is up to you as the parent to determine whether they are ready or not to by following their lead, but going back to the Montessori approach we shouldn’t underestimate our child’s abilities!) Pretend play toys provide parents with an excellent source of teachable moments as well, especially language! Engaging in pretend play can build children’s confidence to then carry out real life practical situations. Of course, exploring their imagination and fantasy realm is never a bad thing for children!
Now consider your personal at-home situation. I myself work full-time remotely and have very limited childcare (5 hours per week in total). While I do a large majority of my work at night and during nap time, I cannot solely rely on those times. Throughout the day I sometimes need my daughter to engage in solo-play and self-entertain with her toys while I am nearby observing her from a healthy distance. This is simply healthy for both her and I to engage in even if I were not working full time. Children need to explore on their own and not be hovered! That being said, it is beneficial for me to have age friendly open-ended play toys around for her to entertain and explore with. While I absolutely love the Montessori approach and agree with it whole-heartedly, we do live in demanding times and are sometimes unable to supervise our child in the kitchen. There are times for that, and our best-selling item — the Toddler Learning Tower — certainly promotes this idea, full parental attention must be given to those moments until certain skills are safely mastered by the child. So perhaps there is a healthy compromise if you, like me, are a Montessori lover, but require some entertaining toys to be around.
One suggestion is to purchase a play kitchen and rather than filling it with pretend utensils, get real ones. Perhaps have a shelf with real dishware. For example, I enjoy teaching my daughter about glassware and at 18 months she understands it will break and we must hold it carefully. You can teach your child to use their play kitchen in ways which will still provide them some degree of Montessori style learning.
So, while a play kitchen is surely not a “must have” and not something you should be stressed out to buy if it doesn’t fit in your budget, it can bring your child beneficial fun. We recommend going with a gender-neutral color which can be passed down or sold later. All of our play kitchens are of heirloom quality, and we expect they will be passed down and up-cycled for years and years to come.