When I was a preschool teacher, a favorite spot of the kids in the classroom was the dramatic play center. I think this was true partly because of all the cool stuff that it was stocked with, but also because little kids are learning about how the world works when they play in that center. During dramatic play, little kids learn through playing, role-playing and re-enacting what they’ve seen happen in the world. This helps them to process and understand what they’ve seen people do and heard people say. Like most humans, toddlers learn by watching and then doing. And, because they don’t know any better, they just want to be grown-ups. They want to act like us, do the things we do, say the things we say, eat the things we eat, wear the things we wear. So, for better or worse, after watching us more closely than we want to know, they “try out” what they’ve seen us do.
For several months, I’ve noticed how Eliana flat-out stares at people in a really rude way, especially when we are in confined spaces like the subway. I like to think of her as a tiny anthropologist who stares at people because she is studying them and trying to learn from them how this whole “being a human” thing goes. (That explanation feels a lot better than when I wonder if she is really just a creepy stalker-in-training). Over the last week, I’ve noticed just how much she has studied Matt and me. She’s begun to do little things I’ve never specifically talked to her about or asked her to do like closing my closet door (to keep her from tossing around my shoes), shouting, “Woo-hoo!” at seemingly appropriate times, (um, guilty), or saying “thank you” after one of us gives her something. She learned these things merely by watching our behavior.
And, for those of you who are wondering, Eliana did not pick up that creepy staring-at-people thing from us. I’m hoping that’s just a toddler being a toddler.
So, what’s my point in this post? Well, in my mind, all of that dramatic playfulness and anthropological staring that our little people do can to be harnessed and capitalized on as we’re creating our teeny tiny foodies because “playing” like a chef” is another piece of the puzzle when creating a teeny tiny foodie. In particular, this piece is to encourage your little foodie’s dramatic play with food by creating an environment where he can play with food, pretend to cook and play like a little chef.
In short: play with your (play) food!
Eliana watches us prepare various types of foods every day and then tries to recreate what she’s seen. She beeps like the microwave after Matt has made her some oatmeal and she tries to “wooooo” like the tea kettle when the water boils. She sees us use forks and spoons on our own rather than being fed, so she wants to do that, too. She’s seen, and has helped, me mix ingredients during various cooking sessions and so she does the same in her little “kitchen” with her tools and utensils. She’s already paying attention, so I’m putting all that interest into action.
To me, the most SUPER FUN part of this piece is the toys that you, oops, I mean, your little foodie, will get to play with!! I totally dig them. And really, how can I NOT love these toys?? Obviously, their theme is food so, duh, that’s a no brainer. But I also love the real world practicality of them. I can show Eliana a zucchini in real life and even encourage her to taste, touch, and smell one. And then I can give her a toy zucchini to play with and she can pretend to recreate the recipe we just made, or use it to harass the cat, or gnaw on it if that’s the way she wants to play. Either way, she is playing and exploring and learning about food as she goes.
I’ve discovered that there are so many kitchen and food-related toys out there, and you can find these types of toys to fit a variety of budgets and space requirements. On a shopping trip a few months ago, I discovered that Ikea sells a bunch of different food and cooking tools that are less than $10 a set. During a recent visit to the store, I got Eliana a fruit basket, a fish dinner and a vegetable basket. I love that they are made of fabric and are machine washable, too.
Live in an urban apartment like I do and don’t have a ton of space to provide your little foodie with his own actual kitchen? My mom found Eliana an adorable portable stovetop. It is so cute, Eliana LOVES it, and we can put it on the counter so she cooks alongside me or leave it on the coffee table in her kitchen area. I also love that it is made of real wood, so it will withstand everything my small but mighty little girl does to it over the next many years.
You can also help stock your little foodie’s kitchen and help the environment by using items you already have in your own kitchen. You can reduce waste and reuse your recycling by adding those empty cardboard boxes of your favorite cereal or pasta or empty yogurt containers and egg cartons to your little foodie’s kitchen. Good for the environment and the budget!
- So what stuff** does Eliana have to help her play like a chef? Here’s her “starter kit”:
- -a portable stove
- -some pots and pans
- -some utensils that are a mix of toys and her real ones
- -a random collection of whichever storage containers we’ve put into the rotation that week
- -the fruits, vegetables and fish plate I mentioned earlier in the post
- -old bibs that she puts on herself as an apron when she cooks (and you know I love that!)
- -an empty egg carton, yogurt container, pasta and cereal boxes
- -a few plastic bowls and measuring cups
She walks around the entire apartment with these items or puts them in other logical and illogical places that she thinks they could belong, like on her high chair or on the dining table. And then, you know because she is a tiny person, I will find a fork in her hamper, a pan in the washing machine and an empty container of baking powder in her purse. And sometimes, she likes to toss everything everywhere just for fun. At least she likes to clean it all up again, too.
So, have fun getting your little foodie playing like a chef so he, and you, can play with his food!
- **Disclaimer about the toys Eliana has to help her play like a chef:
- Many of her kitchen toys have an age recommendation of “age 3 and up.” But, after carefully examining them, I’ve decided that the age recommendation has more to do with a child knowing how to use the toys properly rather than the toys posing a safety hazard. For example, maybe if Eliana was a 3-year-old she’d already know that a plate is used for eating rather than for flinging across the room.
Wanna see some videos of Eliana acting silly trying to wear Mommy’s clothes? Visit our Youtube channel by clicking here.