The very best toy we were ever given was our play kitchen. Gifted to us second hand by another family in the village, it was an absolute life saver when we were refurbishing the house and the kitchen was the only room available to us in which to cook, live and play. In this scenario I quickly learned that however open ended, kids will tire of toys after a while and they need to be refreshed to maintain their enthusiasm. With this in mind I like to change up our play kitchen every couple of months. I take some toys away, put others out, change around the utensils available and set up different role play scenarios. This is a reasonable amount of effort once every 8 weeks, but then I just leave it to get muddled and used at will until I'm in the mood to sort it again and it's totally worth the 15 minutes of my time every now and then for all the hot cups of tea I get when they play. I hope the following hints and tips give you a few five minutes of your own.
1. A kitchen in the kitchen
If you can, it's a great idea to have the play kitchen in your real kitchen - it's a piece of kit most useful for keeping little hands busy when you've got things to do. So often I delight in the sight of Smallest baking bread like daddy or Biggest stirring her 'pasta a la toy box' whilst I stir whatever's for dinner. Somehow having the toy in the real space seems to encourage more regular and imaginative play. Play cooking and imaginary baking give smalls the opportunity to perfect lots fo the skills needed for the real thing. Stirring, pouring, kneading, rolling. It's all good.
If you don't have space for something like this in your kitchen, why not set up a few kitchen utensils on the floor or table. Add some cuddly friend to make dinner for. Perfection. For babies, a basket of appropriately sized toy food is great place to start food related play. It gives them chance to explore colours and textures. When they're old enough, you might add an ingredient that you are using and let them enjoy some scooping and pouring fun.
2. Make it Seasonal
If you can have a shelf, basket or table close to your play kitchen it's lovely to have some seasonal real ingredients to explore. Autumn is a particularly lovely time for this with all those funny shaped and textured squash and pumpkins.
3. Offer Imagination
The simple addition of a fluffy friend, peg doll or dolly that surprisingly appears in the kitchen one morning can invite and extend play kitchen play. They might make breakfast for Ted or get him involved in the 'cooking.' Magic.
4. Chop and Change
When I tidy up the toys in the kitchen I always take away what was there before and pop put something else. One month all the toy veg, another baking and cakes. Sometimes I take away all the pans and add other bowls and trays. It doesn't stay tidy for long, but a little rejig always entices them back to play when it has been left idol for a while.
5. Judge your Mess Threshold
Playdough, oats, dried ingredients, beads and pom poms all make excellent play ingredients for a toy kitchen, but they also make a lot of mess. If you're feeling up against it, pop the big play foods out instead. They are quick and easy to pick up from the floor and pop back in a basket or box. Messy kitchen play is always fun for them, but it has to be bearable for me too. It tends to be rainy days at home when I reach for these things, because the length of play when we're at home all day is greater the the time it takes to clean up, but I always make sure to put out plenty of cake cases, muffin trays and scoops to try and encourage an element of organised play, but some chaos is to be expected and I have to be in the mood for it, or it only adds to the stress.
6. Outdoor Kitchens
We are fortunate to have our garden and I love it, but sometimes it can feel like yet another room to clean and tidy at the end of the day. So when I cannot face hosing off the mud I make sure there are quick disposal things available in the mud kitchen - seeds, nuts and oats that the birds will eat or fruit, flowers and herbs that can quickly go on the compost or garden waste.
Some of my favourite bits for setting up kitchen play are listed below. These are affiliate links.