Our Child Sized Kitchen: A history

Of all the questions I recieve about Montessori, our little kitchen gets more questions than anything else. So, I decided I’d better put all the details in one place.

We bought this IKEA kitchen for Quentin for his first Christmas. An odd gift to give a premature 8 month old yes, but he had just started to wean, and we knew it would be perfect in the upcoming years. 

There is nothing more important in Montessori than respect for the child, and with that, there is no greater respect than the Prepared Environment. 

Somewhere that is their own. Somewhere they can keep their things independently, neatly and in a reachable space. 

This picture was first featured here. It is our first set up of the kitchen. It houses Quentin’s tiny porcelain weaning glasses, first dishes and some fun yet practical kitchen tools that waited for the day he could use them. 

Just like when we set up his Care of Self area in the bathroom featured here, we set up the kitchen far earlier than he could use it. The Absorbent Mind of a child is always watching. A parent or teacher needs only to model the behaviour consistently for the child to start mimicking it on their own. He watched us remove his dishes, return them, clear his dirty ones to the tiny sink. And so it wasn’t long before he was doing it independently. 

Here he is just after turning one. At this point it was mostly exploration. But it quickly became more. 

I wrote a post here about our essential kitchen tools. Although we have added many more now, these 6 are still our important ones. These are the ones that get used everyday.  Providing your child with real working tools is critical in Montessori. This has never been a play kitchen. He slices, chops, pours, strains and peels real food. Some may become alarmed at the thought of small children using sharp knives and tools. However, it is extremely important children be given the trust from an early age. There must be many lessons on safety, concentration, and use. These don’t simply come because you tell your child to be careful and then hand over a knife. Modelling, many experiences and dialogue with a parent are needed. 

Here he is just before two years old washing his dishes. A small liquid soap dispenser and dish to hold a sponge (half the size) allowed him complete independence at an early age. We installed hooks beside the kitchen to keep his aprons within easy reach. Many of our kitchen accessories came from Montessori Services

We don’t have plumbing on this wall. The cost of installing plumbing was completely unreasonable when he will only use the kitchen for less than 7 or 8 years. We drilled a hole in the bottom of the plastic sink and he uses a flat plug. He fills the sink with warm water from a pitcher and when done, pulls the plug and it emptied into a bowl inside on the shelf at that time. It now drains out a little hose and into a bucket that he empties. 

These were all the first skills he required. His kitchen has evolved over time so that now, at four it includes cooking with heat. 

A small electric skillet allows him to cook a variety of things. Above a veggie burger for his lunch. Below he’s making scrambled eggs for our dinner. 

I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way now: He is capable, but he is still young. Whenever Quentin is using heat or a sharp blade, I always have both eyes and my full attention on him. His independence and his safety are my responsibility.

So, how does one replicate this? It’s like anything else you would put on your child’s Montessori shelves. This is a process of many steps. Start small, with one task at at time. If they don’t put away their own dishes now, they are not ready to cook independently. 

Modelling is key. Show them how to wash dishes, cut fruit, peel vegetables. This is joyful work to children. Not chores. 

Keep the environment based in reality. If you truly want them to do Practical Life kitchen work, the kitchen must be real. There must be a useable surface space. There must be a useable sink. 

There are so many play kitchens on the market. Brightly coloured ones with flashing lights or sounds, and media characters. These along with play food, toy utensils and the lack of water and heat will confuse the child ultimately setting them up for failure. 

If you truly want them to succeed, look for a kitchen that you would love to use. 

Please feel free to leave questions or comments and I will do my best to answer them. 


40 Replies to “Our Child Sized Kitchen: A history”

  1. Thank you for the great info! My son who is turning 4 in September have been helping me in the kitchen since he turned 1. I didn’t have a child sized set up for him, he would just stand on a chair next to me. He now mixes his own pancake and also cooks it on our regular stove, with me at his side. He has a wooden toy sink, fridge and stove but we only use it for play. Your post have inspired me to turn it into a real life kitchen than he can use to prepare real food. I think he is ready and capable of this. But I also have a 15 month old daughter, and my son is at an age where when he sees his little sister playing with his toys (or anything for that matter) he says “that’s mine” and takes it away. Do you have any suggestions or tips to help them both use the kitchen together? I haven’t really introduced my daughter to the kitchen yet as my son insists that he be the one to help me at all times. Thanks in advance!

    1. The best approach is to treat the kitchen not as a toy. It is no different than the bathtub. Your son uses the bathtub because he needs to have a bath. Your so sees your daughter using it for the same reason. Keep your children’s real plates, cups and spoons in the kitchen. If your son is assign dishes in the kitchen, let him do so independently. Without his sister interrupting. If your daughter is getting out a glass for a drink, let her do it without being interrupted by her brother.
      Both children should be getting their own things out to eat. This will be difficult for your son as he has seen the kitchen as “his” and a toy. You will need to be consistent. The kitchen is not a toy. Just like the toilet and the bathtub. It is a tool of the house to be used by everyone when they need it.

      1. Thank you for the great advice! I will put the small kitchen out by our kitchen and take it slow with them. I have only recently learned about the Montessori way and I have to say it all sounds amazing to me. I wish I would have started when my son was younger! But it’s never too late start. Thanks again.

  2. What can you say about using a learning tower to reach adult sized sink and stove top vs having a child sized kitchen area? Thanks.

    1. Learning towers are very popular. We do use a chair if he would like to help at the stove top while we are cooking or we are doing something bigger than his small kitchen will allow (pastry making).
      I prefer the child sized kitchen vs the learning tower.
      The kitchen is an all in one. Storage, dish washing, food prep, cooking.
      The kitchen is at his level. The learning tower still requires the child to climb up to the adult level. It has to be pushed/brought to where it is needed and then climbed into. The kitchen is exactly where he needs it next to his fridge. It is easy for him to pull food out of his bar sized fridge, go to his kitchen surface, pull out his tools from its cupboards and put on his apron from the hook beside it.
      From the Montessori perspective, the child’s things should always be at the child’s height within their reach. That’s why they have shelving with their materials at their level. We don’t ask them to bring over a step stool to reach their things that are placed on high shelves or in deep toy boxes.

      Long story short, I would advise that if there isn’t space in your kitchen for a child sized kitchen, or if your sight lines are poor and you wouldn’t be able to properly supervise them, then get a Learning Tower. In all other instances a child sized fully usable kitchen is ideal.

  3. Hello Beth, I have fell in love with you blog. Everything you post is beautiful and inspiring. I know very little about Montessori and her method. However, I do know my son loves helping around the house. The past year he has shown increasing interest in cooking and cleaning. Especially the cleaning that happens in the kitchen. We have been pulling a chair to the counter and allowing him to help with as much as we can. Your Ikea kitchen modifications are genius. I was wondering if you could possibly share a tutorial with how you made the sink functional. I read that you drilled a hole, and used a flat plug. Is there any way you could share pictures? I am very much a visual learner. Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Courtney,
      We would be happy to send a few pictures of the sink. We don’t have a tutorial as we did the hack over 4 years ago, but we just used a small drill bit to drill the hole in the in the middle of the sink. If you search “all purpose plug” you will find lots of them.
      Please provide us with an email we can send to.

      1. I would love pictures of this!! chelsey.henson@jonesboroschools.net

        I have just recently found your blog. As a first grade teacher and a mother of a 16 month old, I want to begin building the independence and confidence in my daughter and give her her own space! It’s amazing how capable children are!

      2. Hi! I’ve recently been working on making our home more child friendly, we’ve had this Ikea kitchen for a while but I would love to make the sink more useable. If you still have photos of your sink set up I would really appreciate it, trying to figure out how to attatch hose to it to drain water into a bucket without leaks into the shelving below

        Thank you

  4. Could you tell me where you got your cheese grater and pitcher? I am preparing to set up a child sized kitchen for my 21 month old. I would like to find a pitcher that is light enough for him to use but hold more than a cup of liquid.

  5. Hi

    I’ve just recently found your blog and I’m in awe. I live in Ireland and have 3 Kids, my eldest will turn 4 next week. Could I please ask why you chose not to use the top part of the Ikea kitchen? I’m hoping to buy it in the next few weeks.

    Kind regards, Claire

  6. This is amazing! I just purchased the IKEA kitchen for my one year old so we can begin to teach him to care for himself.

    Did you coat the surfaces exposed with some sort of varnish to protect it from water? I’d imagine the wood would start to splinter from all the water from washing dishes. Also how did you manage to do the dishwashing? I would think the water would still be soapy after a rinse.

    1. We never coated the surface and it hasn’t splintered in the five years we’ve used it. We gave a full lesson complete with clean up from the beginning and he was always responsible for drying up any water he had spilled with a cloth on the surface or his mop.
      He has washed his dishes without issue all these years. We pour boiling water over them to sanitize them when finished.

  7. Hi! I’m contemplating a similar set up for my daughter. Tell me more about the stovetop. Did you replace IKEA’s fake one for a real one? I would like her to start cooking (with our guidance) and I’d prefer this to happen at her level (not via learning tower to our stove).

    1. Hi Cecilia we didn’t replace the stove top. We have used many things over it and you can see some of them on our Instagram feed. Most often we just cover it with a gorgeous cutting board our oldest son made.

      As for heat he has the electric skillet that’s mentioned in the post. It has served extremely well for independent cooking on the child’s kitchen for the last year. He has always had access to our small countertop convection oven when he is baking or cooking oven items so we didn’t feel we needed to get a second convection oven just for him.

      1. Got it! I took a closer look at the pictures and saw the skillet. Thank you so much for this post (and the lightning quick reply). I’m going to try to get this going this weekend.

      2. Beth, another question.. can you share why you chose an electric skillet over a hot plate and pan? My thought re: the hot plate is it would allow for more types of cooking (for example, pots for boiling water) than a skillet would but I don’t know enough about them to comment on relative safety, ease of cleaning, etc.

      3. That’s true, but as always we look at the true practicality of it over all. It has to make sense for the whole family. So an electric skillet will allow for the most kinds of cooking that he does independently at the Child’s Kitchen. When he wants to use boiling water he has always just used our stove since he is never boiling a single serving portion but instead things for the entire family.

        The skillet was a well priced, well made option that meets a specific need.

  8. Hello Beth,

    I have followed you on Instagram for a while and am so appreciative of your instructions around the Ikea kitchen. I have the kitchen all set up and ready to give to my daughter for her second birthday this week but I would like to get the sink set up to be functional as you have described. If there are any pictures you could send, that would be so helpful. Also, my daughter has not had much independence in the kitchen so I am wondering where to start in terms of what I invite her to do on her own with her new kitchen. I am thinking that it could look something like this, with each step looking relatively “mastered” before introducing the next. Is that too rigid?

    1. get your dishes and clear your dishes
    2. clean your used dishes
    3. prepare your own snack

    So that eventually she gets her own snack, prepares it, puts it on a dish and then clean up the dishes and tools used. If this is too detailed a request to answer here, let me know and I will look into arranging a consultation with you. Thank you in advance for any thoughts.

  9. Hi! I chanced upon your website while I’m trying to hack the ikea kitchen set. Can I check where did you get the electric skillet that’s placed on the kitchen set? Appreciate a specific brand or website! Thanks!

  10. Hello there I have a small tildo kitchen and I dont know where to start! It is a small wooden kitchen but i wasnt aware of montessori before I bought it otherwise I would have got the ikea one. It is similar bit smaller it has a small round sink that you can take out and put in. Any tips how i can use it for real and what to start of with for a 2 year old?

    1. Yes! There are many ways to make it a functional kitchen. It could simply be where your child stores their plates and cups, it could be where your child prepares food and it could be where your child washes their dishes.

      Please leave an email where we can contact you directly and we’d be happy to connect to see what would work best to help you start using the kitchen in a Montessori way.

  11. Do you have any advice for teaching a child that a play kitchen isn’t just for play? My 18 month old had his Ikea kitchen for about 3 months, but we just recently started practicing Montessori. I want to move his IKEA kitchen into our kitchen so that he has his own space, but I’m worried that he will be confused because he has been using the kitchen for pretent play. He already sets his own table and helps me in the kitchen sometimes.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      You slowing down and modelling every step your child needs to do to gain independence will be the key. Remove all the items that aren’t real working tools. Give him access to water, to his own real dishes and model how to use every piece.

      1. Thank you! One more question, how do you deal with a child not using tools/materials properly? For example, my son loves water, but rather than wash his hands/dishes, he will pick up the bowl and try to dump the water on the floor, or into another container. He is also constantly taking his dishes out when he is not hungry and wants to play with them. I wouldn’t mind except he has broken a couple glasses as he can play rough sometimes. I don’t know the best way to handle this.

  12. Hi! I love your post and blog…very helpful as I start the Montessori process in my home. I have 2 1/2 year old twins and I’m very interested in doing the Montessori kitchen. We have a KidKraft play kitchen. The question I have is and it may be silly so sorry: what happens when company comes or play dates happen and the other kids just see the kitchen as a play kitchen and not as a kid level real kitchen? How do you keep them from playing with the kitchen?

    Thank you so much for replying!

    1. It’s the same thing as company coming over and doing anything else that’s not done in your house. We simply redirect them.

      So if kids were to jump on our sofa we would say: “the sofa is for sitting would you like to sit?”

      For the kitchen we would say “would you like to make something to eat?”

      Please keep in mind that the child using this is now almost 7 and rarely needs it anymore. Mostly in cases of independent food prep now.

      Children that come over see how we use the things in our home and rarely do something other than what we are doing. In all the years of food prep and dish washing we have never had a guest misuse it. Or our sofa for that matter.

      It’s up to the adults to prepare the environment and guide the child. If misuse of materials is happening that’s on the adult. Not the child.

      1. Wow!! That’s a great point and you’re absolutely right. Thank you so much.

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