Who needs toys? Have fun and encourage milestones with your baby or toddler using everyday items you can find in your own kitchen
What to pull out of the cupboard: whatever you’re cooking up or cleaning up
Once baby turns her head toward the sound of your voice, which happens at about 5 months, she’s at a great age to be an adoring audience to your own personal cooking show. Her neck and back muscles are now strong enough to turn as she follows your familiar voice, and her brain is processing speech and sounds at a more responsive rate. These beginnings of conversation can be encouraged where all of us end up talking – in the kitchen! Place baby in a bouncer, swing or even a high chair (if she’s sitting with just a little support), away from a hot stove, knives or other dangers. Then, narrate as you prepare a meal or bottle. Tell your wee one all about your day. Turn on music that energizes or soothes you and dance around the kitchen while you clean up. It all will engage baby, especially when you say her name, and talk and sing directly to her. She will let you know she’s tired by turning away, whimpering or conking out in exhaustion. Offering her the job of kitchen assistant will help her with this important language milestone, and also might just lead her to being promoted to sous chef at some point!
Peekaboo, Little Boo
What to pull out of the cupboard: dish towels, oven mitts
From 8 months on, your baby (and later, toddler) will likely love to play peekaboo. This new delight in playing peekaboo shows that his memory is developing and he’s beginning to grasp object permanence, the realization that people or things still exist, even if they are hidden. Take your peekaboo game into the kitchen by hiding your face, his adorable little hands or a baby spoon with a clean dish towel or oven mitt. Soon he will be playing peekaboo with you and you can test out your theatrical surprise face over and over (and over and over) again!
What to pull out of the cupboard: Cheerios or dissolvable baby puffs, small plastic bowls or ramekins
Your baby will be ready to feed herself at about the seven-month mark, and this milestone is celebrated with little crackers, banana slices and all kinds of culinary curiosities! Turn finger food into finger play by placing Cheerios or puff snacks on the high chair tray (she likely also will be ready to sit up alone with support at about the same time, so be sure she’s secure and can focus on fine-motor skills with the cereal or crackers). Show her how to move them around, and soon you will be able to offer small bowls or ramekins for her to drop the cereal into and pull the cereal out of. There are books designed for cereal play, or you can create your own by drawing shapes on a piece of paper or placemat so she can make up her own games. Whoever gets a snack while making milestone progress wins!
What to pull out of the cupboard: baby spoons, sippy cup or other safe, medium-sized gadgets that fit in baby’s hand
Pass a baby spoon or palm-sized, safe kitchen gadget back and forth with baby. Show him how you transfer it from hand to hand, then use it as a drumstick or microphone. Then, pass it back to him to see how he explores this new tool. Your game will develop as he meets his milestones. At 6 months, he will be developing the fine-motor skills to grip, release and transfer an object between his hands. By 7 months, he will be able to hold two objects, one in each hand. By 8 months, he will be able to hold a cup on his own, and by 9 months, will not be happy when you take that object away. Pass the time as you wait for your coffee to brew in the morning or use this game as a prompt that dinner is on its way. And just think, eventually you will be handing off the sandwich bags so he can make his own lunch!
Getting the Pan Band Back Together
What to pull out of the cupboard: pans in all sizes, silicone spatulas, whisks, wooden spoons, a strainer
My mom calls this jam the Pan Band, and even has a rhythmic little song that her grandchildren can beat along to on pot drums with spatulas. She’s the one who taught me to have one low cabinet that’s accessible to my toddler with items in it that are always okay to play with if mom or dad – and especially Grandma! – are around to supervise. Show your toddlers how to make different sounds by running a wooden spoon across a strainer and then an aluminum salad bowl. Sure, it is loud and raucous to let little kids have a big instrumental solo on pots and pans, but they love it and it is one more way to make music together.
Advanced Band Camp
What to pull out of the cupboard: cookie tins, dry rice and beans and pasta, chopsticks, soft spatulas
Once your musician has mastered the Pan Band, promote her to the percussion section. Fill cookie tins or plastic storage containers with dry rice, beans or pasta (seal the edges with clear mailing tape if they are not snug-fitting so that any spilled food won’t present a choking hazard). Then, use take-out chopsticks or soft silicone spatulas to hit the drums. Even better, show her how to shake-shake-shake it out to the beat! Research shows that babies who participate in interactive music activities smile more and are soothed easier. Music also encourages language skills as well as pattern identification and anticipation in babies.
Bless This Mess
What to pull out of the cupboard: towels, broom and dust pan, spray bottle filled with water, new sponge
Is your wee one in that glorious helper stage where he delights in assisting you with household tasks? Show him how to have fun cleaning by pulling out baby-safe water spray bottles, new sponges and other gear to make the kitchen shine. Boost the activity by making up a clean-up song. Your cabinets will be the cleanest they’ve ever been – from the floor to two feet high!
Stacking and Sorting
What to pull out of the cupboard: plastic storage containers and lids, unbreakable bowls and cups of various sizes, big and small spoons
Once baby can sit up on her own (at about 7 months) and stand alone (about the time she turns 1), she will love to play with small plastic containers and bowls. The more her self-help skills emerge, like picking up a cup with two hands, the more fun she will have with this activity. Even more exciting, just after her first birthday, she will begin stacking blocks – or in this case, bowls – which are a blast to build and knock down, over and over. Later on, as she nears her second birthday, you can ask her to point to the blue bowl or give her simple instructions like putting the orange cup inside the red bowl to encourage language milestones.
What to pull out of the cupboard: colander, small plastic bowls and cups, dish soap, an apron
Your toddler has just learned to wash and dry his own hands! Somewhere between his second and third birthdays, he’s accomplished this important self-help milestone that encourages lifelong healthy hygiene habits. Now give him a little fun (and well-supervised) time at the kitchen sink to learn how to wash dishes. Stand him on a sturdy step-stool in front of you and fill the sink with a bit of water and maybe even some dish soap bubbles. Show him how to scrub and rinse unbreakable dishes with a cloth or sponge. And just for fun, run water through a colander, strainer or slotted spoon to make a kitchen sink waterfall! Warning: Even with an apron, you will probably both get drenched. Worry not, toddlers also love to wipe up puddles (and parents) with clean dishtowels.
Chef de Cute Cuisine
What to pull out of the cupboard: unbreakable dishes, spoons, cups, bowls, pans, picnic basket, empty (and washed) food boxes and egg crates and milk containers, napkins
I recently pulled out my son’s play kitchen set from storage. After being tucked away for 10 years, the fake fridge was still stocked with (empty) containers! Egg crates, pudding containers, cereal boxes and coffee tins lined the shelves. I’d forgotten how much fun he had playing with “real” food like mommy cooked in the big kitchen. Fill your little one’s play kitchen or a picnic basket with cleaned out and empty containers, plus plastic spoons and napkins, so that they can cook and serve alongside you. Of course, you will be sure to tape down any sharp cardboard or plastic edges or anything not safe for a toddler’s mouth or hands. This activity is perfect as your wee one becomes more and more engaged in pretend play, right around the 32-month mark. This social milestone helps develop creativity, flexible thinking and executive functioning skills—and is so much fun for everyone).
Hey, smart parents! How do you have fun in the kitchen with your wee ones? We want to hear your brilliant DIY ideas. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll feature your tip and give you a shoutout on Instagram and Facebook! And if you love these smart-baby tips, make sure you are using the WeeSchool App for hundreds more like it!