Have you ever considered when to start letting your child use a knife? If they are in the kitchen with you often, then the opportunities and requests to help probably are there too.
I am a strong proponent for having kids in the kitchen. I have shared some of the benefits of working together in the kitchen with your children before: companionship, learning, kitchen skills. All of these apply to helping kids learn to use knives properly as well. Moreover, learning to handle a knife in a useful way aids in fine motor development, and there is a whole vocabulary that our children pick up in the process.
So how do you introduce a potentially dangerous implement like a knife?
I am not an expert, but I can share from my experiences what I have seen work well for my boys (ages 2 and almost 4).
- Model safety. The first step in our children developing new skills is usually watching other people. They are constantly picking up on what we do and what we say. So before ever handing a child a knife, they should see you demonstrating safe handling of knives and have a solid understanding of how they are used (and how they should not be used).
- Start with plastic. Learn the movement. Before my children ever used a real knife, they had hours of practice slicing and dicing play-doh. They have plastic lettuce knives (similar to a chef’s knife) as well as plastic butter knives. Using knives like these, which are essentially like the real thing only plastic, gives them the opportunity to learn how to safely hold and use knives. And even though they are using plastic knives and playing with play-doh, I emphasize that they should still use them appropriately. This means no waving them around, slamming them down like an axe, or using them for anything other than cutting. I don’t want them developing bad habits that will show up later.
- Supervise, supervise, supervise! Be near and observant once you take the next step into introducing a real cutting implement. Don’t be distracted. If you need to take your attention away for a few minutes, take the knife away too.
- Choose the right implement. Once you feel your child is ready to take the next step, choose a cutting implement that suits his age, ability, and maturity. I will explain a few options below.
- Show them correct form. Teach your child the proper way to hold a knife and where to put his other hand. Also important is teaching your child when to simply press down to cut, and when it’s appropriate to use a sawing motion to cut.
- Practice. In order to develop any level of competency, children will need opportunities to practice. Often, I will let my children help me cut up vegetables or fruit that will be used for whatever meal I’m preparing. There are times, though, in which this isn’t an option. If I still want them to be in the kitchen with me, and if they are still eager to participate, I will give them a piece of produce that I don’t mind using just for that purpose. Carrots and apples make good cutting practice because they can just eat the pieces as they chop them up.
- Dialogue. One of my favorite aspects of being together in the kitchen with my children is being able to talk with them. This is how they will learn vocabulary like “chop”, “dice”, “mince”. Talk all about what you are preparing. The method. The health benefits. And, not to be underestimated, this is another opportunity to affirm their efforts and strengthen your relationship.
What are the options available?
In order of safety, development, and usefulness:
- Lettuce Knives. A few years ago I found one of these at Target, but when I wanted to get a second one for my younger son several months ago, I had a hard time locating one. I finally found one at a local kitchen specialty store. So if you get tired of the hunt, just order online.
- Plastic picnic knife. You probably already have some around the house. They can be a great first step in learning to handle a knife.
- Crinkle Cutter. This is a tool used to “crinkle cut” vegetables. It is a wonderful first “knife” for toddlers too. Its handle makes it easy to hold onto and easy to get sufficient force to cut through vegetables.
- Dog Knife. My two year old currently prefers this as his favorite cutting tool. It is sharp enough to cut through a lot of different types of produce, but not sharp enough to cut his fingers. (I will say, though, that the first day he used it he came down on his cuticle and that didn’t feel very good. But this was the only time he was “hurt” using it. Today he chopped carrots like a champ with his dog knife). Bonus: the knife has a face and a tail.
- Paring Knife. This is a knife that I use many times a day. They are regular, sharp knives. They will cut fingers if used inappropriately. I would not recommend a child using these until you feel that they have enough skill to cut without fingers getting in the way. My oldest son, who will be 4 in June, has been using paring knives for at least a few months. He worked his way up through the knives mentioned above and now has the dexterity and skill to be able to use paring knives safely. He is also getting quite good at uniform slicing and chopping!
Different types of produce are easier to cut than others. Here are some suggestions of which types of fruits and vegetables are good options to learn with. Generally, vegetables that are at least a little firm will be easier to cut. Another suggestion is to pre-cut the produce to give the pieces a flat bottom so they will not move when your child is trying to cut through them.
- Bell peppers
Have you introduced cutting tools to your children? What have been some helpful strategies you’ve used to help them learn to use them?
*This post contains affiliate links.