Kid-friendly kitchens help even the youngest pitch in

Heather wrote up a fantastic post on her blog, Oh My Stinkin Heck, about encouraging kids to help in the kitchen by making it more accessible to them. Really, the topic is much bigger than that — it's about honoring your children by teaching them to pitch in…that they naturally want to help and you do them a disservice by not showing them how.

Reminds me of a great series by Lara Gallagher at GNP Parents called "Teach Your Kids to Work" (here's a link to Part I). I admit I often take the easy path of shooing them out when it's time to get things done around the house, not so much because it's easier, but because I need a few moments of relative silence. These posts remind me that I'm throwing away a crucial opportunity to teach them skills AND to invest in my future ability to relax while THEY do some of the work.

As my Dad always says about the hard stuff in parenting and in life: "Pay me now or pay me later."

Related: Kids learn, work, and have fun at "Camp Mom"

AndChore systems for kids who can't yet read? Talk amongst yourselves.


  1. hedra says

    Oh, yeah – The photos look like our house (okay, less cluttered, LOL!). We long ago put the kids dishes in the low drawer, so they could get them out and put them away. One of the 2 1/2 year olds (especially – both, really, but one more than the other) is TOTALLY into helping with the dishes. She’ll take out the ‘kid stuff’ and put it away, and bring me/DH anything that she can’t reach. DH is out of town for a week, and so I got the fun of having the fire-line dish unloading, M passing the silverware to R, to me, to put away. It was actually fun – it took a little longer, so what?

    I always struggle with the time vs. autonomy/respect thing at this age. Can’t remember who, but someone on Ask Moxie said that this age should be called ‘autonomy vs. getting out of the house in the morning’. But after 2, it does get better, mainly by increasing dexterity. The more I respect them, the more they respect me. The less I control/coerce/badger them, the more they offer to *help* me.

    Very Montessori, too – honor the child. ALWAYS let them do what they are physically able to do. Build that into the schedule, so they feel needed, helpful, useful, and proud, rather than just ‘too slow/clumsy/untrustworthy.’

    Now, to remember that ALL the time, instead of just ‘much of the time’. Sigh.

  2. Natalie says

    The kidlet, who just turned 2, likes to help unload the dishwasher. He also gets to spin-dry the greens or basil or whatever in the salad spinner (whee!). I need to find more things for him to do to help!

    We have one of those Learning Tower things, which means he can reach the counters and “wash” pots and pans in the sink. I should put that thing to more use.

    One thing my mom did was let us help her read recipes. We sat in a bar stool near the counter and kept track of where she was in the cooking process. Good practice reading instructions, and she claims it helped us understand fractions! I’ll do this too when the kidlet learns how to read.

  3. Serena says

    Natalie, try making pizza with your two year old – perfect age for spreading sauce, adding cheese, pepperoni, veggies, etc.
    Noah (2.3) loves to cook with us, and we’ve been working on ways for him to help – the other night it was simply taking all of the ravioli out of the packaging and onto a plate – sure, I could have put them in the pot directly myself faster, but this way he “helped” and since I was still waiting for the water to boil, it didn’t really slow down dinner, it just gave us an extra activity before it (and one extra plate to wash – not a big deal).
    I would love some more kid-friendly recipes – any ideas for books or websites out there?

  4. betsy says

    Love, love, love the Mollie Katzen books. I’m sure they have been mentioned here before. Salad People and Pretend Soup. It’s a cookbook for pre-readers! For those that WANT to cook with their child, but aren’t finding the patience for all the measuring and such – go back to a packaged treat like brownie mix. Not as good or as healthful, but it’s a place to start. Also, a plug for a local (Portland) product – healthy, wholegrain mixes like you would make if you had the patience! –
    They ship anywhere and it’s a mom business.
    My 3.5 year old can handle the time of measuring, but my 1.5 year old – pour, mix and go works much better!

  5. Working Dad says

    Great post and I could not agree more. We started by having our three-year-old son help set the table, and he now makes his bed and cleans up his room every day. It’s time to build on that work. Thanks for posting.

  6. christie says

    I was inspired by reading this piece yesterday. Today I pulled some kid-friendly household jobs from the adult Daily Job List for my 4yo children to do. They were thrilled (THRILLED!)to be given license to use the spray cleaner (vinegar & water) and wipe stuff down in the kitchen. Tomorrow the bathroom, Wednesday they help me fold laundry instead of just watching me wash it all flippin’ day. :)

  7. Jill in Atlanta says

    I’ve been studying my kitchen cabinets since yesterday when I read this. Our kitchen has been very inaccessible and we need to make a change. I’m going to do some shifting around so the kid plates and cups are within reach. Great hack.

  8. JT says

    Bravo/a! I have been a strong propronent of getting my kids to be independent where it’s safe and practical, especially in the kitchen. I have all boys, and a husband who knows how to make (a) coffee and (b) scrambled eggs. So you can bet all three of my boys will leave my house knowing how to make a few meals!

    Our hacks:
    – Put parentally-approved cereals into easy-to-grip plastic containers and keep on the bottom shelf of a baker’s rack. The kids can get them at any time for breakfast or a snack.

    – Keep the kids’ plastic dishes in a deep but not huge bottom drawer. It’s about the size of a file drawer, and it holds plates, bowls and cups.

    – Keep filtered water in the fridge, in one of those big plastic containers with a tap. Much easier for kids to access than something that has to be poured — and they drink more water because they like the tap!

    – Bring at least one kid grocery shopping, and let them pick out fruit, yogurt and other healthy snacks. Then, they help me put them away. I’m the opposite of anally organized, but the yogurt is always in the same spot in the fridge, as are other snacks the kids like. So they can get them on their own.

    – Hide all scary things (knives, box grater, food processor attachments, etc.) where kids can’t reach. Don’t rely on cabinet & drawer locks — my kids have broken every kind!

    – Remember that not every family cooking project needs to involve either complicated recipes or every family member. My boys seem to be okay taking turns helping me, and they don’t care whether it’s spending three hours making homemade mac & cheese, or 20 minutes making the blue box stuff. The time together and pride of accomplishment are all that really matter.

  9. Marilyn Terrell says

    Brilliant! buying non-breakable dinnerware and putting the cereal bowls on the bottom shelf were two best innovations in our household. The bowls are still on the bottom shelf, even though our youngest is now 13!

  10. Mummyjaan says

    My 3 year old is very helpful with nearly any chore I take up.

    She especially is excellent at unloading the dishwasher and putting away the small things that she can manage, like spoons, bowls and light plates.

    I praise her a lot and encourage her.

    She, in turn, loves to help around and please Mummy.

    When Dad comes home, she proudly announces that she helped Mum with this, she helped Mum with that, etc. and the things that she did “all by myself”.

    I think doing small chores in accordance with her abilities gives my child a sense of achievement. It also keeps her away from the TV.

  11. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Marta: I’m going to post your question up front to see if you get more responses — I’d love to hear what people come up with!

  12. Susan says

    I know this comment is kind of late, but I’m reading through this post and all of the comments, and I would LOVE to have some ideas about HOW to get kids to do the chores. I’ve tried making it fun, I’ve tried making it a “time together” activity, I’ve tried reward systems, I’ve tried You have to do your chores before you can do X. All of these things have worked, but only the first few times. Then, apparently the novelty wears off and my son whines, throws a fit, and refuses. I try very hard to always follow through on my promises & threats. I’d love ANY ideas. Thank you!

  13. hedra says

    Susan, late in response back, too…

    We have two kids (out of four) who are very very resistant to being told what to do. It took some work to figure out the entire system of issues, but they kind of snowball into this one area. The oldest in particular is a challenge on this.

    The main thing is that he is highly resistant to being TOLD what to do, or when to do it. He’ll tend to do things if he comes up with his own plan, for his own things, on his own schedule. I can (and do) work in my needs on this, and he considers them. What this means is that we take the entire house process as one big set of tasks that need doing, and let him choose – daily if he wants – whatever he would like to do of the things that are available. I honestly don’t care what it is, as long as he takes on something that I’d otherwise have to do.

    Because he also has sensory issues (sensory seeking but also hypersensitive), a lot of ‘cleaning chores’ irritate him beyond normal scope. So cleaning anything grungy is much harder for him than it is for me. He’s better at ‘picking up’ chores. He also (like me) works better with small tasks with many successes. ‘Pick up the living room’ is too big. ‘Pick up the books in the living room and put them back on their shelves’ is fine, followed by ‘pick up just the stuffed toys’ followed by ‘put away the crayons’. We set timers for 5 minutes, to keep the pace up. (this small breakdown of tasks is part of the process for a lot of workplace time management, as well, so it’s a fine skill). When I remember, I also try to have him assess what the tasks should be, so he gets ‘eyes’ to see what needs to be done. I usually forget that part, I’m afraid.

    Also, for getting him to set the time to do a task, it’s PLANNING, not ‘later’ or ‘after dinner’ – formal setting of the time, unless it is immediately. Write it down on a sticky note and post it. Learning to do things immediately is important, but having them choose the timing is also a good skill.

    If you take the time-management approach, and treat it exactly the way you’d (like to) be treated at work, it seems to sit better for this kind of kid. “Hey, I need some help with this project, are you busy? Can I get a moment with you later to go over what help I need? Okay, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about this. Here’s the project I’m trying to accomplish today. I really don’t have time to do the whole thing, and we have that fun event for the whole company later today that I don’t want to delay for anyone. There are about five tasks here that anyone could do, if you took two of them, it would be a help. Which ones do you think you could manage?” Some people aren’t comfortable giving that much ‘equality’ to the kids, but honestly, if my boss said things to me that I have caught myself saying to my kids, I’d QUIT, or if I was a bit less mature than I am now, I’d wiggle out of everything annoying I’d been asked to do. Which is basically what kids like yours and mine are doing – participating only in the things they WANT to do, and avoiding everything else.

    Good luck! Try Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) for more on the structure of how that works.

  14. hedra says

    Oh, and that’s just the ‘weaning on’ part. After they get used to doing various tasks, THEN you can set up their ‘job as a member of this house’ – but again, letting them choose what it is helps. Just because it is chores, doesn’t mean they have to hate it. For example, DH and I split up tasks based on who dislikes the task least. If he likes picking up the books his preschooler sisters pulled down, FINE!

    The oldest also thrives on variety, and finds sameness irritating (this is a sensory issue as well – too much of the same overloads him), so we’re working towards having him do X number of Y minute tasks daily. At the moment, his main task is doing his homework and practicing for band (which takes up nearly every minute from getting home to bed time), but on weekends, he is getting better (gradually) at helping out. He’s also getting better at being clear if I’m being bossy and pushy, and asking me to try asking another way. Oy. But hey, good reminders for me, too.