Ever since I was a little kid, cooking role play seemed to be one of the most engaging plays I had. I didn’t have a kitchen toy, but me and my friends often improvised and used what we had to make it work. Kitchen toys are now very popular, and you can easily find something for every pocket, or you can make one yourself if it suits you. There are multiple options out there, from small kitchens or grills to big kitchen set toys.
But let’s talk about the best age for a play kitchen, because that’s why you are here. I think there are suitable options for almost any age and that children can start playing with kitchen related toys as soon as they gain confidence in holding things with their hands. Around 6 months or when they begin to sit with no help, after they already mastered to hold their head and grab things with their little hands it’s a good start for play kitchen related toys.
We can divide the different options on the market considering their age and their development stage so you can best asses what’s the best choice for your child.
Infants 6 months- 12 months
At this stage, your child can sit on his own, can grab things and analyze them, can move things from one place to another. A kitchen related play appropriate for his age would be toy vegetables and fruits. You can choose softer ones, plush ones if you are afraid they can hurt themselves, but there are also plastic and wooden ones. I would say the plastic ones are the cheapest, but the wooden ones are more durable. You can start by naming the fruits and vegetables, it will also help him develop his sensory skills. We have decided to get a few soft ones in the beginning and some months later we proceeded getting wooden ones, 5 years later they are in very good shape and still being used on a daily basis.
Toddlers 12 months- 36 months
Your child is now more aware of his surroundings, he most likely started to walk, he can now categorize objects, so if you already have different fruits, vegetables you can now continue categorizing them (by color or by size) and if possible (at the wooden ones), cutting them with a toy knife and then placing them back together. There are also wooden pizzas that can be divided into slices and added toppings on top.
Using pots and pans to cook a soup or bake a cake is an idea that starts to take shape more clearly in their mind around this age.
They also have a better understanding of the different tools and household appliances and what they’re used for. They now know that you use the stove to warm water for a tea or boil some eggs, the oven is for baking a cake or a pizza, the refrigerator is to keep foods cold and fresh, and they also understand the role of a kitchen exhaust hood.
Around this stage might be a good moment to get them some more accessories if you haven’t done it already and some of them can be handmade by you, as well, for example the apron and the chef hat. They aren’t difficult to make, you can easily make a paper chef hat in a few minutes or you can opt for a cloth one, which will take a little longer, but will also last more.
Children 3 years old – 10 years old
At this age they can play with any kitchen toy, so it’s more a matter of choice and preferences rather than a development criterion. Most kitchens for kids have various accessories and organized spaces such as sink, refrigerator, oven, microwave oven or cupboards, and the more realistic it looks, the better. At this stage children can also start preparing real food in their kitchen play, if their kitchen is equipped with water flow, they can wash their fruits before eating them, wash their hands, their plates. They can also prepare some sandwiches for the entire family or arrange a nice charcuterie board using their tools. I wouldn’t want the age range to seem categorical, as there are plenty older than 10 children who still enjoy playing in a kitchen toy set, but also younger than 3 who can master this play. These are just general age ranges, but you don’t have to downright stick to them.
I’m going to say that the best age for a play kitchen is the age your child is ready and eager to do it. This moment may come at very different stages for different children, so it’s a decision to be made by their parent who knows well their interests and their developmental stage. At the same time, I support widening their horizons with this type of toy because it can be a valuable asset for their development and it’s the kind of toy that grows on you and that can be used for the long term. So, in my opinion, anywhere from 6 months old you can get kitchen related toys for your kid and their kitchen corner can grow exponentially as they age, until they have a full set-up by the time they are old enough to appreciate it. However, if you have an older child who didn’t have a kitchen toy but he’s starting to manifest interest in this area, there are some age-appropriate kitchen sets, larger than the usual ones if you want to give them the opportunity to experiment. Children who are really passionate about kitchen play can also try cooking classes specially developed for their age and improve significantly their kitchen skills both for their play but for real life as well.