At first thought, the idea of your preschooler using kitchen tools might evoke images of your facial soap being grated like a chunk of Parmesan cheese or your little one screaming helplessly as she accidentally gets her hair tangled in the electric mixer. Some kitchen tools are stimulating and versatile; others, like the electric carving knife, should never enter the picture. Having said that, introducing your preschooler to activities with safe kitchen tools exposes her to a world of mechanics and imagination.
If you don't mind a little nontoxic washable paint or glitter on your kitchen tools, let your preschooler explore new and inventive ways to apply old mediums. For example, coat a piece of stiff cardboard with nontoxic glue and let your child sift ultra fine glitter on to the paper using a flour sifter. She could also create a "smack mural" by dipping a spatula in a plastic dish of paint and smacking it on the paper. Never use any artistic material that isn't nontoxic or easily washable.
Measuring cups and funnels aren't just for food. Building with kitchen tools lets your preschooler experiment with the science of construction. For example, show her how to create a graduated row of sand or dough "igloos" using the measuring cups in order of size. Funnels are great molds for building pyramids and tents. Show her how to roll a section of clay flat with a rolling pin and cut the dough or clay into different shapes using cookie cutters.
Food preparation is probably one of the most helpful activities your preschooler can do with kitchen tools, provided you stay close for instruction and supervision. You can't necessarily trust your toddler to correctly use an egg slicer or a carrot peeler. But at 5 years old, she can learn to properly use such kitchen tools and delight in genuinely contributing to the meal. For a younger preschooler, or one who can't be trusted not to use the carrot peeler on her skin, stick with injury-proof tools like the salad spinner. Chop the veggies and let her add them, along with the lettuce, and spin the salad. Help her pour the mixed salad into a serving bowl.
Kitchen tools let your preschooler experiment with things like water and sand in new ways (ideally outdoors, though, and not in your kitchen). Turning a manual eggbeater in large bowl or dish of water lets her create a ripple effect and waves. Combing through seed beads or water with a slotted spoon and then again with a non-slotted spoon lets her experience resistance. Have her use multiple kitchen tools at once and compare how each tool affects the water differently.