Montessori Inspired Kitchen Work Space at 2 Years Old

A couple of months ago it became clear Eli’s kitchen work space needs were not being met.  He needed more unlimited access to water.  He needed easy access to kitchen tools.  He needed a work space and sink at his level.  He needed demonstrations in practical life skills which required a series of steps.  With the holidays and the joys of first trimester, it wasn’t until recently we were able to figure out and configure a new prepared kitchen environment for our soon-to-be two year old. But, holy moly, has it made a huge difference!  Eli now independently accesses and prepares snacks, helps himself to drinking water, and accesses water for hand washing, table washing, plant watering, etc.

Water source.  Our previous setup was abandoned when any useful amount of water ended up on the floor at any given time, creating one slippery tile floor.  If Eli was going to have access to water, I wanted him to have access to all the water he would need in a given day, and for a young toddler, that’s a lot of water.  The solution: I found this bathroom storage container at Ikea.  It was a perfect height and had enough surface area to hold the water dispenser.  Now, the fun part: it had slats!  And a place under the slats to place a container to collect spilled/overflowed water, which was also not accessible to toddler hands!  No more limiting water; no more sopping wet, slippery floor.  And because it is meant for bathroom storage, the wood is treated to prevent water damage.  If you are looking to add a water source in your home, run to Ikea right now.  Seriously.  I could not have asked for a better water source setup.

Work surface and sink.  If you follow Our Montessori Life (blog or Instagram), and you should, you will see our inspiration in using this kitchen set from Ikea.  Instead of including the “stovetop” piece, we did a slight Ikea hack and Gorilla glued a cutting board over the top of the “stovetop” hole.  This way, Eli gains a work surface that is smooth, water resistant, and also does not resemble a stovetop.  We thought it best, since he is so young, to not give him the impression he can place objects on anything mirroring a stovetop.  The hack was quick, easy, and works perfectly.  The sink is not connected to plumbing.  Instead, under the sink, there is a pitcher and a bucket.  The pitcher is for collecting water from his water source to pour into his sink to use for hand washing or table washing, etc. and the bucket is used for dirty sink water.  When Eli is finished using the water in his sink, he gathers the bucket, places it on the floor, lifts the sink out of its hole, and carefully pours the sink water into the bucket.  He then carries the bucket of dirty water to our large kitchen sink and pours it in, using his learning tower to gain access our kitchen sink.  In the remaining storage space of this work surface, he has easy access to his currently most used kitchen tools: small cutting board, tongs, set of small colanders, wavy knife, and strawberry slicer.

Kitchen cabinet: dishes and snacks.  Eli previously had a kitchen shelf for dishes that worked perfectly for such a long time, but he has outgrown this, too.  He needed more storage and access to snacks.  We repurposed this previously owned Ikea KALLAX (2×2) shelf by adding cabinet doors (and soon a set of drawers, which have been out of stock at our Ikea for the past month. Come on, Ikea!  We have some prepared environments to perfect over here!).  We also purchased these shelf organizers to double our useful shelf space.  Inside dish cabinets/soon-to-be drawers: plates, bowls, glasses, placemats, silverware, napkins, dishtowels, and small drinking pitcher.  Inside snack cabinet: choice of fruits and basket of non-perishable snacks.

When I watch Eli in this space now, I am, once again, blown away by how capable a young toddler is when given the time, space, and environment.  Without a word from me, he gathers a bowl, strawberry slicer, and small colander.  He opens our refrigerator and collects the small bowl of strawberries (stems removed ahead of time by me).  He places the strawberries in the colander and collects his water pitcher.  He fills the water pitcher with water from his water source, carries it to his sink, places the colander filled with strawberries in the sink, and pours the water over the strawberries.  He gently shakes the colander to allow the water to drip down into the sink.  Then one by one, he places a strawberry into the strawberry slicer, slices the strawberry, and pours the slices into his bowl.  When he’s finished, he gathers the used tools and dishes and takes them to our kitchen sink.  He gathers his bucket and pours the dirty sink water into the bucket and carries and pours it into our kitchen sink.  He returns the bucket, and then carries his bowl of strawberries to his weaning table or our family table.  He’s just shy of two years old, and the focus, the quiet joy, the confidence he has in caring for himself is the most beautiful thing to witness.

6 Comments

  1. Khaleda

    Wow I love this setup! The water dispenser idea is genius! My son is the same age as Eli but I am hesitant to give him such free access to water – if I had this setup he would empty the dispenser and pour water back and forth between the sink and the bucket all day long until it eventually all spills. How did you teach Eli to use the water correctly? I would really appreciate your tips as I want my son to be more independent but I am really struggling. Many thanks 🙂

    • Lindsay

      So sorry! Just now seeing your comment and question! With Eli, I presented the process, and then made sure I was nearby as he learned to use these materials with purpose. So, if he needed help completing the activity cycle, I would step in to guide him to the next step. Eli is a fan of using a lot of soap when he washes his hands at his sink. Oh, how fun pumping soap is! He can pump twice and then needs to move to the next step. I am nearby if need be to reinforce this expectstion. Usually just a “how many pumps of soap before you rinse your hands?” does the trick. He also isn’t always a fan of taking his bucket of dirty water to our big sink, so sometimes he asks or needs help to finish this step. At this age, it’s about being present while the child independently attempts the process, knowing they are learning and it won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. In terms of spills, Eli has access to towels and helps with (if not completes independently) any spill or mess he makes. I hope this helps!

  2. Kari E-K

    Hi! I love reading your blog for inspiration–I am a Montessori Teacher and Mom, too! One random question: Rinsing dishes! Not that important? or is there a way that you do it in the one basin that I’m overlooking?

    Love the cutting board that you use in the place of the cooktop! Solid reasoning and a good hack.

    • Lindsay

      Thank you for reading! Well, right now, Eli still does any dish washing at our kitchen sink using his learning tower. I love the two basin process, and he uses it at the Montessori Toddler/Parent class we attend two mornings per week, but I haven’t quite figured out how to make it work as an option in our home yet.

    • Lindsay

      It’s a thin one from Ikea. There’s a fraction of a give, but because the hole is small in comparison to the cutting board’s surface area, you don’t really notice. He pushes down to cut fruits and vegetables with no problem.

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