5 Ways to Make a Play Kitchen more engaging

A play kitchen can be a great purchase for the play space, but what happens when it starts getting ignored? Here’s the thing, play kitchens are a great novelty in the beginning – children just love to emulate the real world in their play – but after a while, putting plastic fruit and veg into a toy saucepan and pretending to cook it loses its edge.

We bought our IKEA play kitchen for my daughter’s 3rd birthday. She’d always loved them in shops and over at friends’ houses, so I thought it would be a guaranteed success. For a couple of weeks, she loved it but then her interest dwindled pretty quickly!

Rather than chalk the experience up to a ‘failed’ birthday purchase, I set about ways to make the kitchen more engaging for her and her younger sibling. Fast-forward to today and the play kitchen is used on a daily basis.

5 Ways to Make a Play Kitchen more engaging

1. Add chalkboard paper / paint to the reverse side

First things first, add chalkboard paper or paint to the reverse. We bought ours from Flying Tiger and it has really allowed the children to put their own stamp on how the kitchen is used. From veterinary clinics, to florists and a café, the chalkboard paper can be used to transform the play kitchen into a shopfront.

Allowing your child to write their own signs helps them to put their own stamp on play and also helps provide plenty of opportunities for mark-making. The fact is, the more enjoyable you can make core skills like writing, the better!

play kitchen reversed with little girl writing in chalk


2. Add play dough!

Play dough is one of our favourite ways to make the play kitchen more engaging. In the past mine have made pizza, Christmas cookies and pumpkin spice lattes with play dough. It helps add an element of sensory play to the mix. Play dough is also excellent for helping to develop fine motor skills and hand strength – both of which are essential for writing in the future!

using play dough in the play kitchen makes for more engaging play

3. Use the Play Kitchen as a sensory play station

When your child is more experienced with sensory play and doesn’t just throw materials all over the house, you can introduce sensory elements into the play kitchen. In the past we have used lentils, rainbow rice, mini pumpkins, dried flowers, loose herbal teas and nature treasures as an extra addition to the space.

using natural elements like pumpkins and pine cones can make a play kitchen more engaging

4. Swap out the fake foods for loose parts

Fake foods are great for building language development, but they can lose their shine pretty quickly. Build a collection of ‘loose parts’ from the recycling bin and add them to the play kitchen* That way, your children can decide what they are making. The red and orange circles in the photo above are a good example of store bought loose parts – these are often used to supplement pretend food in my children’s’ play.

*small pieces shouldn’t be used with under 3’s. Always use your best judgement when using recycling and nature treasures in play. 

5. Use the play kitchen as a real kitchen station!

Children love to help out and create things that are real. One way to instantly make your play kitchen more engaging is to move it into the real kitchen and use it as a workstation. This is one of the first things we did when ours started to get ignored and it was often used as a base for baking muffins and cakes. You can also add a wooden chopping board along with kid-friendly knives and your child will be able to help out with preparing food.

use the play kitchen to do some real cooking - baking cakes for example!


Want to read more?

For more information on dramatic play and when it starts to develop, click here

For details on what everyday resources to collect, click here

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Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.