If your toddler is anything like mine, you count yourself lucky to use the bathroom by yourself and emerge without finding lipstick on the carpet or a few books floating in the fish tank. How do they move so fast?
With a curious, busy 18 month old like that, the idea of actually preparing a meal without suffering serious property damage or charring the meal in the process can be daunting.
But by taking advantage of your toddler’s curiosity, desire for sensory stimulation, growing motor skills, and budding imagination, you can keep your child entertained, engaged, and right by your side while you work in the kitchen. Here are four simple ideas to get you started:
1. Do the Dishes:
Set your child up with a safe chair or step stool at the kitchen sink. Add a little soap and water to the basin and give your child a few utensils to play with in the water. Turn the faucet on to a slow drip to create more interest. Once you’re done cooking, your sink will be ready for your dishes! (Tips: Make sure there’s nothing near the sink that shouldn’t end up in it. We are talking about toddlers here! Also, I’ve learned by sad, soggy experience that anything that can hold water will be filled and likely dumped out onto the floor. Measuring spoons, whisks, and spatulas work best here!)
2. Get Cookin’:
Let your little one play along. A small saucepan with a wooden spoon along with a plastic measuring cup for pouring will do the trick. Sometimes an empty pot will do, other times you may need a little play food, water, dry pasta, or craft pompoms for pouring and stirring. My little guy has also enjoyed having canned food around to pretend to pour in, or simply to place in the pot whole!
3. Pull Out the Pans:
Your kitchen cupboards are full of fascinating containers! Muffin tins and measuring cups are often toddlers’ favorites! Add those with loose parts to manipulate and move from one container to the next. (Note that this, as well as the other activities, assume that you are supervising closely as you work side by side in the kitchen.) Items that work well for this activity include unifix cubes (above), craft pom poms, small crackers, cereal, or dry pasta. You could also add in some tongs for another level of fun experimentation.
4. Fill Up a Bin:
Keep a flat storage bin and a drop cloth handy for some sensory play in your kitchen. Using media like colored rice, dry pasta, craft pompoms, or shredded paper, along with a few scoops, plastic figures, and/or toy cars will keep your child engaged and entertained so long you might start making gourmet meals! Teach your child boundaries for sensory play by using these tips. When you’re done, hopefully the bulk of the mess will be on the drop cloth, and you can simply fold it all together and shake it back into the bin.
What do you do to keep toddlers entertained while you cook?
Stephanie Schuler says
Keeping the little ones is always a challenge! Great suggestions! Thanks for sharing.
Debsch @ Cloth Books for Baby says
Our 16 month old pulls out the onions & potatoes that we keep at the bottom of the pantry. He rolls the spuds around the floor, peels the skin off the onions, makes a huge mess, but lets me cook in peace for 15/20 minutes. When dinner is cooked we get the hand-held sucker-upper-thingie and suck up all onion skins and put the potatoes back where they belong.
When the onions and spuds lose their appeal, I’ll get him to “do the dishes” as suggested above.
One of my boys was particularly interested in pulling things from the pantry while I was cooking. I would leave things on the lowest shelves that were safe for this kind of play, knowing he would do so. I remember one of my aunts coming over while I was cooking. She essentially said it would drive her nuts to have that happen every time she cooked. I thought, “This is what KEEPS me from going nuts!” It was always worth the clean up, compared to the alternative!
For my daughter I’ve found that she loves watching happy meal toy videos where the person is opening up toys. I don’t know why but she just loves them so much.
Here’s one of her favorites..