Kids like to climb up and sit on things. This is a fact. At some point, they just love making themselves bigger and getting a new perspective on their world. Unfortunately, the things they choose to climb into aren't always safe. For example, step stools are fun, but there are no handholds and kids can easily fall unless someone helps them up and down.
Chairs? Definitely not safe for a kid still learning about gravity.
So we got this thing called a Learning Tower. (Dorky name, I know, but stay with me.)
The tower's about three feet high. It has an adjustable platform he can stand on, with four different levels. When he stands in it, he's at the perfect height to reach the kitchen counters. So he can play, eat, or help us cook dinner. (Heh. Usually, this means that he puts vegetables in a bowl, or something fairly safe and simple. He's not quite ready to mash potatoes or julienne carrots.)
According to the literature, kids use this until age six and beyond. It cost nearly $200, but we saw it as a long-term investment.
He loves being around us in the kitchen, and before we got the tower, he would just get underfoot and drive us crazy. Now, we can keep an eye on him while we cook, and with a snack or a toy, he can easily occupy himself.
He's had it for around a month now, and has grown to love it. He now calls it his tower. "My towa!" (Yeah, he sometimes sounds like he has a New York accent.
He learned to climb into it the first week we had it, and that was a frightening discovery for us. So we have to watch him carefully, and stick to the rule that he can't be in the tower without mom or dad nearby. It does have handholds, and he is enclosed on all four sides. But that hasn't stopped him from falling out once or twice.
(Note: if you get one of these, don't let your kid sit on their butt on the platform. It's meant for standing. It's too easy for kids to slip out the sides and tumble out when they sit.)
It's caused a bit of commotion for us, as we adjusted to the idea that he needed free rein of one counter when he was in it. That means rearranging appliances (the coffee pot, toaster oven, etc.) and moving anything breakable out of his reach. But it's worth the trade off. He feels proud and independent when he's up in his tower, and he can happily keep himself occupied for a long time.
If you get one of these, you really have to have a wide open kitchen. Assume that you're bringing in something roughly three feet high with a two-foot square base into your kitchen. Make sure you have the room first. (We never would have gotten this in our previous apartment, with the hallway kitchen.) But if you can fit it, and you can afford it, this is a great idea for a toddler or a preschooler.