If it’s not occupied by too many kids, I tend to leave the highlight of checking out the kitchen playset for last—as an incentive for patience in the store, if you will. Navigating through aisles of uninteresting items in bulk, it’s the promise of playtime at that coveted kitchen set that gets me through my time at the warehouse store with minimal whining.
And so, last Christmas, not surprisingly, a kitchen set landed on Jack’s Christmas list. It was my generous parents who volunteered to buy this fun gift, hinged upon the contingent that I did the research and shopping. As a mom of boys who also writes about kid products, admittedly, I’m often blinded by real-life stigmas by choice. Until a friend mentioned it to me, in this case, I honestly had no idea that kitchens are sometimes considered “girl toys.”
Perhaps it’s in my circle of friends, or my conservative family members, but I refused to label this sort of toy as gender-specific. Boys eat too, yes? Boys and girls love to play pretend, yes? So, why pigeon-hole this sort of role playing for one gender over the other?
Researchers insist that role playing, and playtime in general, is crucial for early childhood development. In Smithsonian Magazine, child psychologist, Alison Gopnik says pretend play relates to what philosophers call “counterfactual” thinking. And through research at University of California at Berkeley, Gopnik says they found that children who were better at pretending could reason better about counterfactuals; meaning, they were better at thinking about different possibilities. Gopnik emphasized, pretend play is not only important for kids; it’s a crucial part of what makes all humans so smart.
It doesn’t take a scientist to prove that children love to mimic adult behavior. In my house, the boys are usually with me in the kitchen when I cook and bake. Their participation in the cooking process, to me, prepares them for a healthy relationship with food, making them aware of wholesome ingredients. In addition, involving them in the kitchen, undoubtedly, helps them to better understand that cooking and cleaning isn’t necessarily a one-person job. So, naturally, cooking and pretend food are among the kids’ favorite play things in our house.
It wasn’t until my search for the “perfect” kitchen set that made me start to second guess my thoughts on this. I had several very specific characteristics for this kid kitchen: it had to be an affordable, sustainable kitchen set, preferably one made of wood, that would fit into a smallish corner in our playroom and gender-neutral. After searching scores of online toy sites, my options were slim to none. They either didn’t have the right features, were too big, too small, too girly or too pricey. For a kid’s kitchen playset, it was almost impossible to find something that perfectly suited our family. What stuck with me during my search, was the fact that a majority of kitchens and play food were decidedly feminine. I am, however, excited that a number of toy manufacturers have shifted their color schemes and marketing campaigns of kitchen toys to embrace everyone—not just girls.
We never did find that perfect kitchen playset last year. Ultimately, since it fit our price range and met our small footprint requirement, we decided on a wooden kitchen set that has blue details. Kids should be kids and play with toys they enjoy. Pink, blue, purple or yellow, the color shouldn’t matter, even though more times than not, it’s virtually unavoidable.
The biggest deal in the “plight of the perfect kitchen set” was that Jack was genuinely grateful when his grandparents him gifted him with his very own kitchen set for Christmas. One thing’s for sure: his set isn’t as cool as the CostCo display—how else would I get through the store with baby and big kid in tow? Playtime is just as pertinent as picking up the milk, afterall.