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I love to cook. But after I had a baby, being in the kitchen stopped being as fun. Juggling a tiny human and knife is never easy — especially when said human is crying or needs to be feed or has a massive diaper explosion.
Throughout the last 14(ish) months, I tried a variety of ways of keeping Pepper happy while I cooked. They varied based on mobility. And while some were more successful than others, none were fantastic. My attempts included:
- DockATot: Baby specialists may be gulping right now because DockATots say right on them never to put them on a table. But back when Pepper was itty-bitty, I’d plop her on the kitchen counter while I chopped veggies and sautéed chicken.
- BABYBJORN Bouncer: I also placed this on the counter…another no-no. I get it. But having her up at eye-level kept her happier. The only problem was, roughly every 30 seconds I’d need to tap the darn thing to keep it bouncing and her happy.
- Skip Hop Explore: This thing was GOLD while it lasted. Pepper’s a BIG baby and has always had lots of core strength, so we put her in it a little early (3.5 months instead of 4 months). And she LOVED it for the longest time. I’d take it everywhere throughout the house or the yard, and she’d just self-play.
- Blanket and Pillow “Fort”: When Pepper could sit up, but couldn’t crawl, she’d often fall to the side or backward. So I’d lay a blanket on the ground, ring her with pillows, and put toys in front of her. A big dog bed with a bumper worked well for this too. It was somewhat effective for keeping her happy, but almost always required some hands-on attention.
- Corralling Her in the Kitchen with a Baby Gate: Pepper only crawled for a day or two and then went right on to walking at about 9.5 months. While there’s been some parent envy from other friends, let’s just say that walking brings on a WHOLE new set of challenges. At this point, she didn’t like to be contained in a playpen. So I put a baby gate in the kitchen and kept her with me. It wasn’t very effective for getting much done, but I did have my eye on her.
What is a Kitchen Helper for Toddlers?
A kitchen helper is a wide-based stool with firm feet and guard rails that offers your child a safe and sturdy way to stand at counter level. Also known as a child-safe stool, kids kitchen step stool or learning tower, they are extremely popular with Montessori families because they promote independence and inclusion.
Which Kitchen Helper is the ‘Best’
Gah, this is such a TOUGH question. In my ‘esteemed’ opinion, the best toddler stool is the one that gets used. We opted for the Naomi Home Kids I’m a Big Helper because it folds.
That being said, I was seriously considering the Little Partners’ Kids Learning Tower because the height is adjustable.
3 Considerations When Selecting a Toddler Kitchen Helper
- Weight Limit: As your kids get older, though, one thing you will want to think about is the weight limit of your toddler step stool. I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to sit on Pepper’s.
- Adjustable Height: Some kitchen helper towers allow you to adjust the height of the tower, letting the stool grow with your child.
- Storability: We opted for a stool that could fold to make it easier to store. This is particularly nice if you’re dealing with a small space, as the towers tend to be big and bulky.
How Old Does Your Baby Have to be for a Learning Tower
Popular wisdom is that learning towers are best utilized between 2-years-old and 6-years-old. And a lot of the resource guides you look at will say toddlers started using their learning tower around 18 months.
We got Pepper a toddler kitchen stool at 14 months because she just seemed really ready for it. She was constantly begging to get up and be able to see what was going on. Her high chair worked for a while. But it didn’t get her in the action like she wanted to be.
At all times, the best resource when you’re wondering about the right age to introduce something is your pediatrician. They’ll be able to help you navigate what your baby can handle as they develop.
Can You Use a Kitchen Helper for Other Things?
Definitely!! Kitchen helpers don’t have to stay in the kitchen. You can move them anywhere you want. We like to take ours into the bathroom when we work on brushing our teeth with Pepper.
She’s much better at holding the toothbrush and keeping it in her mouth when she can see herself and mimic mom — which is hard to accomplish if mom is trying to hold the baby and brush her teeth.
4 Tips to Successfully Use a Kitchen Helper
1. Start with Dedicated Supervision
When we first introduced it, I made sure there was a dedicated adult watching her. It was new and I wasn’t sure if she’d try and climb in or out. Now that we’re both more comfortable with it, I don’t feel the need to have an adult supervisor right there at all times. But..I still wouldn’t leave the room with her in it.
2. Clear the Deck
When I say ‘clear the deck,’ I’m talking about the counter. Pick a spot at the counter that’s far enough from the stove your baby can’t reach a hot pan. And, clear anything away from that spot that you don’t want your baby to touch.
Not only does this promote safety, but it keeps you from facing a constant battle of wills while trying to cook. The idea is to make your baby’s time in the kitchen as fun as possible. Constant reprimanding isn’t going to do that for anyone.
3. Give Your Baby Some “Kitchen Helper” Toys
We wanted Pepper to feel like she’s involved with the process. So we’re picked out a few non-breakable, baby-friendly kitchen items:
- Plastic mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Plastic measuring cups
These are things we let her play with only when she’s in her kitchen helper. Not only does this keep her interested in them, but I’m hoping it’ll help her equate the difference between things you ‘play with’ and things you ‘work with.’
4. Look for Ways to Include Your Baby
At 14(ish) months, there’s not a TON of things a baby can really help with, but we’re taking advantage of what we can. The first ‘helper jobs’ have included:
- Assisting with String Spices on Raw Veggies: Mom holds bowl with one hand and baby’s hand and spatula with the other.
- Turning on the Mixer: Mom holds baby’s hand to flip the mixer on.