Within Arm's Reach: Fostering Independence
Storing kitchen stuff and snacks within arm's reach (your child's arm, that is) helps children of all ages feel more in control of their lives, more independent, and more capable. This way they don't have to cat leap onto the counters to get themselves a glass. And once you set it up for them, kids can arrange their "stash" of glasses, plates, cups, and silverware any way they like. They can also unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher directly into the stash (which they'll do with great alacrity if some of their stuff is shared with siblings on a first-come basis).
- An deep, easy-to-open drawer works best. A pull-out drawer on rollers is the best option for storing stuff within arm's reach. If you don't have that in your kitchen, low, open shelving that is screwed securely into the wall so it won't topple over will work well too. Try putting a deep-sided wicker basket or plastic bin on the shelf so that your child's stuff will be more contained. If you have several kids, labeling the drawer or shelf is a good idea (they'll know which is theirs, of course, but you might forget).
- Have certain dishes for your kids. Most parents use plastic dishware for their kids; however, if you don't want your child eating off of plastic, some companies make really nice heavy-duty ceramic plates and mugs for children that won't break easily. Personalized dishware makes a nice gift for any child. Of course, kids can eat out of the same bowls as grown-ups, but when they know something is theirs, they may be more likely to put it away and take care of it.
- Teach them to empty the dishwasher. They can take the stuff that belongs in their stash out of the dishwasher and put it directly into their drawer. This makes your job easier.
- Teach them to set the table. Since they can easily reach what's in their stash, children as young as 3 can help set their place at the table as well as their siblings'. When they get old enough to reach the regular dishes, teach them to set the whole table.
- Store snacks. Have a separate snack drawer or shelf that kids can reach by themselves and keep healthy snacks there like brown rice cakes and dried fruit in easy-to-open containers. If your children can open the fridge by themselves, you can also designate a space in the fridge for healthy food you don't mind them munching on during the day (carrot sticks, apples, chunks of cheese, and plain yogurt are all good snacks). Even though the snacks are within reach, it's a good idea to train your children to ask your permission first, so that they don't fill up before a meal.
- A toy drawer in the kitchen is a good idea too. Designate one deep drawer or low shelf in the kitchen for toys. With a toddler you can keep just one toy in the drawer and rotate it when she isn't looking (get out the camera to capture that look of astonishment every time she discovers a new toy there). For older kids, you can keep a bunch of toys in that drawer -- this gives them something to do, other than tugging on your pant leg, while you're cooking supper.