A kitchen is a popular place for children to create, providing room for children to explore recipes and meals with pretend ingredients.
As children recreate situations they are familiar with, they are developing a positive association with cooking, promoting a healthier, more independent lifestyle. They can imagine the beautiful meal they have created and feel proud to have contributed as they pretend to eat.
Benefits of Dramatic Kitchen Play
As children work together to create meals in the kitchen or serve a meal, they are using collaborative skills. Communicating who is cooking, serving, cleaning up and taking turns are essential social skills and practicing them in a familiar environment makes them all the more real. Thanking the cook and exploring what children understand as table manners are also great learning conversations.
Oral Language Development
Explaining what they are doing as they cook helps children consolidate their understanding of the vocabulary of the kitchen. They explore new vocabulary as they plan and cook meals, and sharing this language with each other enables peer learning to happen naturally. The informal setting of the kitchen can help shyer children feel more comfortable to explore their language, chatting as they cook.
Serving a meal cafe-style or like you're in a restaurant is the perfect way to practice formal language, such as "What would you like to eat?" and "Thank you for the lovely meal," or "Can I pay my bill please?"
While we do not immediately think of reading and writing as part of the kitchen area there are ways to sneak in some authentic opportunities.
A whiteboard and marker or a blackboard and chalk can easily be made into a menu board. When planning a meal, children can talk about what the ingredients are and prepare a grocery checklist for the store. Adding little notepads and pencils to the cafe/table area encourages children to take written orders.
Following a recipe requires following a procedure. While this can be simplified to two or three step processes for beginners, more advanced children can make and follow more complex procedures.
Sorting and Patterning
Sorting foods by type, colour, size or meal is often one of the first things children learn to do in the play kitchen. Children are naturally inclined to sort and will find their own order whether we encourage them to or not. Sets such as the Food Group shown below, help to develop an understanding of the food we eat as well as the different groupings, whether we use the old Canada's Food Guide or the new one!
Many children thoroughly enjoy the sorting process and the results. Building a sandwich, for example, requires a child to follow a pattern: bread, lettuce, tomato, meat and bread again. The Sandwich Making Set is a great way for them to practice sorting, assembly and fine-motor skills, like slicing.
As mentioned above sorting and patterning is an inevitable skill that happens in the kitchen area but lots of other math happens too. Counting people, utensils, and food are all likely to happen in the play kitchen and is a valuable math experience.
Counting out money to pay for a meal or give change is the perfect time to imitate adult behaviour (although with our reliance on credit cards may require some modelling).
Adding a balance, like the Bucket Balance, can be a fun way to explore weight. Children can pretend to measure ingredients for a recipe or find foods that weigh the same.
Whether it's sharing utensils, space or figuring out how to make food, problem-solving is an essential part of the kitchen and helps to develop independence and critical thinking. Missing ingredients and improvising are all wonderful skills to practice in the kitchen.
Having children practise in the play kitchen and then use those skills to help prepare snack is another way to make their learning authentic.
What is 'normal' to children varies from family to family, so it's important to introduce a variety of multicultural cuisines. Including as many different play foods and cooking/serving utensils as possible opens up the opportunity to talk about the food we eat, how we eat and where it comes from. The New Sprouts Multicultural Food Set offers familiar foods like pizza and cheese, but also foods like sushi, avocado and kiwi.
The play kitchen provides the ideal opportunity to discuss healthy food choices, food groups and healthy treats. Discussing healthy treats in words children understand such as those a dentist will use "sugar bugs" helps reinforce healthy habits.
Fine Motor Skills
Chopping, mixing, using utensils, and picking up ingredients all require fine motor skills which help strengthen little hands for future writing activities. Start developing their knife skills safely with the Cutting Food Box.
Adding tongs, tweezers, and training chopsticks can add to the fine motor skills development opportunities.
For older children in preschool, kindergarten and grades 1-2, we extend literacy and numeracy learning by including:
- Till for cafe bill payments
- Notepads and pencils to take orders
- Recipe cards (index cards) to write recipes
- Dry erase menus for your table
Written by Chris, an elementary and middle school teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.