#repurposingforplay – Kitchen Utensils

A Window into a Child’s World

She opens the cabinet and chooses. The treasure is transported into the living room and placed on the coffee table. Then she returns and selects again. Back and forth, she works her plan until there is enough to begin.

I watch, knowing a little, because I’ve seen her do this many times before. She will do some kind of baking or cooking. Because her “kitchen” is the coffee table and there are no plastic or cardboard play-food toys, I can’t quite make out the details. While her goals are unclear to me, she knows completely.

“What are you making?” I ask, hoping for a window into her world.

After a thoughtful pause, “Eggs.” She continues on without being deterred.

I look again with fresh eyes. I see with informed imagination.

Open-ended is Better

Imaginative play doesn’t need “just so” materials. In fact, the more open-ended a thing can be, the better. If we give children an opportunity to use things in alternative ways, the world of imagination and innovation ignite. What are the “rules” in your house about accessing things in your kitchen? Can your children use any of these items for playing outside?

The kitchen contains an unlimited amount of possibilities for play—and not only real or pretend cooking. A slotted spoon can be a new bubble wand or a tool for the sandbox. Pots, metal baking pans, and wooden spoons quickly become the rhythm section of the orchestra.

Repurposing takes something and intentionally uses it in a different way from its original purpose. It’s a kind of recycling because the item is being reused. But repurposing gives an item a new life. It asks not what something is for but what it could be used for.

Many adults become stuck in their thinking as they age. By nature, children are more flexible and imaginative. Children use these qualities to develop new ideas. As adults provide material for repurposing, children grow in creativity. This can help both adults and children grow.

A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Opening up your kitchen items for play doesn’t mean there are no boundaries or guidelines. Are there “yes” cupboards or shelves? What are they to do after they’re done using the kitchen items? This teaches freedom with responsibility.
  2. Thrift stores and yard sales have great repurposed kitchen toys. Every kid intuitively knows that grown-up things are better. They’ll last longer and come at a better price.
  3. If you’re not going to distract the play, show interest with a curious question. During play, you may discover they need materials you can provide. After play, you may get the whole story.

How do you naturally respond to repurposing?

Is it positive or negative? Does it come easily to you or feel awkward?

In this series, we’re striving to inspire the use of everyday things for play. The tip sheet is here to help start the process. Be sure to come back next week for more. 


Comment below with your answers: 

  • Were you allowed to play with kitchen items in new ways as a child?
  • What kitchen items could you donate, temporarily or permanently, to play?
  • What are your hesitations in using kitchen utensils for play?

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