We mamas spend a lot of time in the kitchen, don’t we?
Which means we also spend a lot of time trying to get our toddlers out of the kitchen.
Whether we’re washing dishes, fixing a meal, or just trying to snag a mug of coffee while it’s warm, there’s always a busy, curious toddler underfoot.
Tripping over little people tends to make even the simplest task take seven times longer.
I realized early on that if I just involve my toddler in as much of what I’m doing as possible, life goes a lot more smoothly— and pleasantly!
A child’s curiosity is a wonderful thing, so instead of shooing them away, let’s embrace it!
Today, I’m bringing you a list of 10 easy ways you can involve your toddler in the kitchen— and why you should!
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How to Involve Your Toddler in the Kitchen
I believe that, as parents, we should be working hard to spend much of our time doing one of two things:
- Coming down to our child’s level, or
- Bringing our child up to our level
Remember that your toddler is living in a world much bigger than they are.
Get down on the floor as close to your toddler’s height as possible and move room by room through your home. Notice how big the furniture is, how high the counters and tables, and how tall everyone else seems.
Your toddler needs your help to feel they a part of the world they live in, which is largely an adult world.
When you’re working in the kitchen, your little one can’t see what your hands are doing above the counter, or in the sink, and for their safety, you might have even baby-proofed the drawers and cabinets so they can’t be opened. Plus, you spend so much time in there!
It’s little wonder they’re hanging from your leg, begging for your attention, or asking to help with whatever you’re doing.
Our natural tendency is to shoo them away, informing them we’re busy and if they’ll just leave us alone for five more minutes, we’ll be done more quickly and can come play with them.
But Mom Friend, that’s a huge missed opportunity!
Bring them up to your world and let them learn from you!
Really the only tool you need to involve your toddler in the kitchen is a step ladder that brings them above counter height. (Obviously, close supervision is a must!)
If you have a smaller kitchen, you may need to opt for a simple folding stool like the one we have:
We use just the simple, foldable two-step ladder and it had worked great for my toddler since the very beginning. As far as I can remember, she only ever took one minor tumble.
10 Ways Your Toddler Can Help You in the Kitchen
#1. Washing dishes
Helping to wash dishes is by far my toddler’s favorite task.
I mean, who doesn’t love playing in water and bubbles? It’s like bathtime for your hands.
I can even remember helping my dad wash dishes from a young age.
I set up my toddler’s step ladder on the rinse side of the sink and equip her with her own dish rag, along with any little cleaning brushes she wants. As I wash dishes and set them in the rinse sink, she happily provides them with a second washing.
(By the way, these are my new favorite dish rags. They’re bamboo, so they don’t sour the second you get them wet, and they’re insanely soft!)
Especially in the beginning, some water is going to end up on the floor. And on your toddler, and the counters, and the cabinet fronts, and you. I found myself easily getting aggravated over these little messes, but mom friend, is it really a big deal?
Your toddler is making special memories, loving the time with you, learning and growing, and water is so simple to clean up. Take a breather and let the messes happen. Your toddler will eventually learn to keep (most of) the water in the sink.
My tip is not to let yourself get to the point of frustration. When you’ve had as much as you can take, be honest with yourself and your child. Keep things positive– thank them for helping you, and let them know you’re going to finish up the last few items yourself. They will probably cry, and that’s okay.
If your toddler is spilling water intentionally, still keep it positive. Explain that too much water is being spilled out of the sink and that it’s time for them to take a break. They can try again next time to splash less water.
#2. Feeding pets
If you have pets, allowing your toddler to feed them is a fantastically simple way to empower your toddler with pride, accomplishment, and responsibility.
It’s a small task they can complete without much, or any, assistance.
Maybe you don’t feed your pets in the kitchen, but even if you use a different room, it’s still a great job for your toddler!
(We’ve found these little metal condiment cups make the perfect cat food scoops for small hands.)
#3. Wiping counters/table
“Wax on…wax off.” If it was a good exercise for the karate kid, surely it’s good for toddlers, too!
Not only does wiping of the table and counters (or any other surfaces in your kitchen) provide your toddler with a great gross motor exercise, it’s also a fun way to reinforce the sequencing of cleaning a space after using it.
My toddler’s favorite part is definitely using the spray bottle… another great exercise in coordination and hand strength!
Plus, wiping things down is something they can actually do pretty effectively.
For an inexpensive, less-toxic cleaning option, I like using Mrs. Meyers All Purpose concentrate in a reusable glass spray bottle. One container of the concentrate lasts me nearly a year– a WAY better value than buying the individual sprays!
#4. Emptying the dishwasher
While obviously, your toddler won’t be able to reach to put most of your dishes away, I can almost guarantee she’ll LOVE handing dishes up to you.
A couple of quick tips:
- If you can, arrange your kitchen so that the dishes you use the most of are stored in the closest proximity to the sink. For example, all of our plates and bowls are in the cabinet directly above the dishwasher. (It’s great for efficiency whether you have a tiny helper or not!)
- Snag anything you don’t want your toddler handling before inviting them to help, such as knives, or sentimental breakables.
I also highly recommend giving your toddler her own small drawer or cabinet in your kitchen where her things are stored– cups, utensils, plates, bowls, snack containers… Toddlers crave control and ownership. This also allows them to complete the process of removing clean dishes from the dishwasher and putting them away where they belong, rather than just handing them to you.
Is allowing your toddler to help scoop and measure and stir ingredients for a recipe messy? Yes. Yes it is.
Is it worth stressing over? No, it’s not.
Try to hold onto your big picture perspective. Your toddler is gaining valuable skills, experimenting with cause and effect, learning boundaries, and spending precious time engaging with you.
They LOVE this.
It doesn’t mean you have to let your little guy throw fistfuls of flour across the kitchen. Disciplining and enforcing boundaries is as important as ever, and safety is non-negotiable.
But this is a perfect opportunity to bring your toddler into your grown-up world and make them a part of it.
#6. Cutting with toddler-safe utensils
You might be surprised to know that your toddler can start learning to cut with a knife from a very young age!
Obviously, you’re not handing your 18 month old a sharp paring knife or giant butcher’s cleaver… You can get a set of developmentally appropriate kitchen tools that progress with your child.
Along with graduating tools, the types of food you offer for your toddler to cut will progress as well, from soft foods like banana and avocado to more challenging options like apple and carrots.
You might start your one year old with a simple spreader and banana, move up to a crinkle cutter and cucumber once he has a bit more hand strength and fine motor control, and then introduce a serrated nylon knife— able to cut most foods, but not sharp enough to cut skin. Eventually, when your child is older and you are comfortable with it, you can begin carefully practicing with real knives.
#7. Making coffee
Another fond memory I have is helping my dad with the coffee maker in the morning.
Whatever the rest of the day is like, there’s just something slow and special about the coffee-making ritual. It’s a sensory experience, and you can emphasize it in many ways (sound, touch, smell, although maybe not taste yet).
Let your toddler help insert the filter, scoop and measure the coffee, pour the water, and push the buttons.
It’s just another little way you can bring your worlds together.
#8. Clearing the table/loading the dishwasher
Your toddler is capable of learning sequencing and routines very early on.
By creating a habit through encouraging your toddler to carry her own dirty dishes to the kitchen, and even loading them into the dishwasher, you are once again empowering your toddler to help herself and instilling responsibility.
You reinforce that there’s no magical fairy that comes and sweeps away the messes.
Personally, I don’t think it’s a chore that should be enforced when they’re still so young. Rather, give them the opportunity to take an interest (which at some point, they most likely will). If they want to do it, they will be far more likely to keep the habit on their own.
BONUS: They can also help you set the table before dinner!
#9. Allow exploration in safe cabinets/drawers
If there’s anything toddlers love, it’s anything that doesn’t belong to them.
In my experience, they especially love exploring kitchen drawers and cabinets.
I say let it happen. How long will it take to pick up afterwards, really?
If you’re engaged in something your toddler can’t help with (or you just really don’t want them to), letting them explore the kitchen is a great way to occupy them.
#10. Observing from your level
Sometimes there are tasks your toddler really can’t help with. Other occasions, you’re more pressed for time, or just need to get something finished without a toddler’s “help.”
Many times, a toddler will be content just to observe what you’re doing from your level. Pull up their stool and put them just far enough away that they can’t get their hands into your work.
This is still a way to include them. Remember, they live on a different plane of existence than you. When you aren’t able to come down to their level, bring them up to yours!
They appreciate it, and learn so much even just from observing.
Now I want to hear from you…
Is your toddler constantly underfoot in the kitchen? What are some ways you include them?
Let me know in the comments!
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