* Prices may differ from that shown
Our kitchen has a conservatory area at the end and, on moving into our house, we decided that this part of the room would make a good additional play space for our two young children. As an enthusiastic cook, I spend a lot of time in my kitchen baking cakes and preparing meals, so it seemed ideal to create a space in that kitchen where the children could play as well. In my mind, the most logical toy to fill that space was a toy kitchen of their own, so they could imitate what I was doing through their own role-playing games. As my kitchen is my favourite part of the house, I felt that it was important that the kitchen that we chose from the children looked good. I really wanted a wooden kitchen with a bit of style to it and we spent a while researching alternatives online. The other major factor that we took into consideration was the colour of the kitchen - although the play kitchen was technically a Christmas present for our little girl (then almost two), I didn't want to get a pink one that her older brother would refuse to play with on the grounds that he 'doesn't like pink'. The final factor which tipped the balance was an email from ELC offering the kitchen that we liked best at £50 off.
* The Product *
The ELC Wooden Diner Kitchen came flat-packed in large boxes. Assembly was relatively simple, the instructions were clear and all the pieces were numbered to make it easy to see which parts fitted to each other. It took my husband just over an hour to build it on Christmas Eve after the children were in bed, accompanied by a cold pint of beer (or two), while I crept round the house sorting out all the 'Santa' things. The single thing that appealed to me most about this kitchen was its appearance - it simply looks beautiful. It has everything that you could want from a play kitchen in my opinion. The base unit consists of a microwave with cubby-hole storage underneath, an oven with three silver dials above it, a cupboard / fridge (depending on your child's interpretation of the toy) with a chalkboard front and curved shelving to each end. On the main surface of the kitchen there is a silver sink and tap plus a hob section with two rings for cooking. To the right of the hob is an area for food-preparation with a chopping board hanging to the side of this. Above the hob is a silver bar with hooks for hanging utensils and there are more storage shelves for crockery etc. above this. The kitchen is a bright shade of red wood, with white surfaces and a very retro-looking black and white tiled pattern on the uprights to either side of the hob. The quality of the kitchen is fantastic - ours has been played with on a regular basis for the past 18 months, by two not very careful children, and still looks in great condition.
Much as I love this kitchen, I do have a couple of words of warning. Firstly, this is a big kitchen. It takes up just over a metre of wall space and is almost a metre high to the top of the shelving unit from the floor. If you only have limited space, then it probably isn't going to fit (we would never have squeezed it into our two bedroom flat where we were living before this house). The second is that the only accessory that actually comes with the kitchen is the chopping board. We have bought / received a lot of kitchen equipment (from play food to toasters, via pots, pans, crockery and utensils) and without at least a basic set of pots and pans, a few plates and a cheap set of food, the kitchen isn't going to do anything more than simply look good.
* Our Experiences *
In our experience, this kitchen provides the perfect stimulus for role-play. When we first got it, my little girl was probably a bit too young for it - she did enjoy playing with it, but it was more opening the doors of the cupboards / cooker and putting things in / taking them out again, than genuine role-play. Now she is three, she absolutely loves this kitchen. When I am cooking, she is often to be found imitating me at her own kitchen, busying herself with her pots and pans, cooking up a delicious feast for her toys. OK, so sometimes her food combinations and cooking techniques are a little bit suspect (fried cake with a side of broccoli anyone), but she really enjoys herself when she is doing her 'cooking'. She is starting to take more notice of how I cook and relating this to her play as well - I have noticed her cooking potatoes in the microwave, frying meat in a pan and putting the cakes in a baking tray in the oven. Hopefully all this practice cooking will stand her in good stead in the future.
Role play like this is fantastic for developing both communication and imagination skills. My children will play with this kitchen together, or with their friends, and it is lovely to hear them chattering away about what they are doing. You can also create different scenarios using the kitchen. My little girl loves to do her shopping from her market stall, select her food and take it to the kitchen in the shopping trolley, before making her meal. When she plays with her brother, they sometimes play 'restaurants' when they take orders, cook the meals and serve us at the table - for older children this is great for encouraging writing skills if you get them to take down the orders on a pad. It also works well as a memory game as they have to remember what you have ordered. My daughter also likes to use the kitchen to cook meals for her babies, who she then feeds in their highchair.
* Cost *
The Red Wooden Diner Kitchen has now been replaced at Early Learning Centre by a blue version, but this is essentially the same kitchen. This is currently on sale for £150. I admit that this is expensive for a kitchen, but it is very stylish and looks fantastic. For us, it has been money well spent (particularly as we paid £100 for it and not the full amount) as it is played with on a regular basis and has provided our children with hours of enjoyment.
* Final Thoughts *
I would definitely recommend this kitchen. It is exactly what we wanted in terms of a play kitchen for our children - the quality is fantastic, it looks fabulous and it provides endless opportunities for imaginative play. The features of the kitchen enable children to play the games that they want to play, especially imitating parental behaviour which is such an important part of the learning experience for this age group. The kitchen is suitable for children aged 3 and upwards, which I think is probably about right. As previously mentioned, we bought it for our daughter just before she was two and she did get some enjoyment from it at that age. However, due to the size of the kitchen, I think it is more suitable for a slightly older child and this probably means you will get more use out of it, as it is definitely not a 'baby' kitchen. My six year old boy (who is mostly into Star Wars, Lego and Skylanders) still enjoys playing with this kitchen on occasion, although it is definitely his 3 year old little sister (a very girlie girl who loves doing whatever Mummy does') who gets the most enjoyment from it.