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Helping in the kitchen is something my child thoroughly enjoys. Now that she is in elementary she has a handle on most of the "safe" kitchen skills from kneading dough to reading a recipe and even measuring out ingredients after doubling or halving a recipe (with a little checking and help with the math at times).

With the holiday season fast approaching, I know we will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. She is still scared to go anywhere near the heat and doesn't want to help with flipping things or removing things from the oven yet (not that I'm complaining) but she has begun to ask about helping with chopping, slicing and dicing.

Should I just tell her no, you need to wait another year or two? If so, what signs of maturity does she need to demonstrate to show me she is ready to use the knives?

Of course I've let her use a butter knife for things like slicing dough or bananas but does anyone have suggestions for teaching SAFE knife use and skills. Once I decide she is ready;

Where do we start? Are there tools out there designed to help teach this skill? What skill is easiest/safest to start with and what are some good resources for making sure I'm really covering all that I should in terms of her safe use of the knife?

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3 Answers 3

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I'm glad you asked this question as my 4-year-old has started spending more time in the kitchen with me (though mostly he just wants to lick the cake batter bowl).

So...of course I went to do some research.

The What's Cooking with Kids website has some excellent suggestions on how to ease kids into chopping and there are some excellent alternative chopping equipment out there that I never even thought about. Obviously, you can always turn to the food processor or blender for chopping. These are good, but if yours are like mine, they're a pain in the butt to clean up. But I had forgotten all about the food chooper! How great are those for young kids?! Veggie peelers are good confidence builders and the article gives some great advice for starting your kids out on actual knives. Even egg slicers are good alternatives for fruits and softer veggies (or, apparently, mozzarella cheese!).

Anyway, she suggests the following (it's a great list and full of things I wouldn't have thought of on my own)

  1. Use a larger cutting board than necessary. It's harder to cut if you feel crowded and I would totally agree with that.
  2. Obviously wear close-toed shoes. I always treat my kitchen like my lab at school. Hair back, shoes on (especially with knives).
  3. Don't try to catch falling knives.
  4. Carry the knife with tip pointing toward the floor.
  5. You the parent should select the cutting tool for your child.
  6. Always hold the food with one hand while the other hand uses the knife.
  7. The holding hand should always be shaped like a claw to keep little fingers safe(r).
  8. The tip of the knife should remain on the cutting board. You lift the back of the knife to do the chopping.
  9. The shape of the chef knife might work better for your child and keep him/her from banging his/her knuckles on the board while cutting.
  10. If you are working with round or wobbly foods, cut off a slice from the bottom or cut it in half to stabilize it.
  11. Be sure your knives are sharp. This seems counter-intuitive, but she legitimately points out that a dull knife can cause your child to overcompensate by pressing down harder and the injuries caused by this can be terrible.

Anyway, they do make safety knives and there is a link in that article to one type if having one around would make you feel better. I hope this is helpful for you because it's been incredibly insightful for me!

As for age, I think that's entirely up to you. Clearly there's a certain level of motor skills that she needs to have control over and you can assess that better than any of us can, and I think there's probably a lot of personality involved in determining whether your child is ready to wield a knife. If your child focuses well and really understands that she can seriously hurt herself if she misuses this tool then she's probably on the right track to being ready for some basic knife practice. My son, for example, no way am I handing him a knife right now.

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GREAT resource - thanks! And I completely agree about the personality and focus part. –  balanced mama Nov 19 '12 at 15:27
    
+1 for the sharp knives! Sharper knives mean less pressure and less danger to slip and cut oneself. –  Stephie Dec 4 at 10:45

Yes, she's probably ready. I think the most important criterion in deciding whether or not to try learning to use a knife is willingness to follow directions. If she's not listening to and obeying every word you say, no knife practice, period. That and sufficient gross motor and fine motor skills to control the knife would be important. If she can handle butter knives and isn't a super-clumbsy kid, she's probably ready. Even my 2 1/2 year old begs to learn how to cut vegetables, and we've been beginning to work on learning to cut them together, and that has gone well for us.

Obviously, you may want to have her watch you first up close and see how you cut, and have a dialog going about how you use the knife properly (probably every time you cut), which side of the blade is sharp/used for cutting, where your fingers should be when you cut, how you don't want your fingers near the blade, how you should cut slowly and carefully rather than quickly and carelessly, etc. When I was first teaching my son how to hold the knife to cut, I had him put his hand on the handle, and then I put my hand around his, and I held the veggies, and we cut together, so he could get the feel of a chopping motion, while I was steadying the knife to make sure it went where it was supposed to...build that muscle memory of what chopping should feel like. From that level of joint chopping, you can increase the independence, let her position her other hand safely to hold the veggies, and then help her get the knife in position, and let her do the slicing, and so forth until she's doing every part if it without assistance. Make sure she's standing somewhere stable and is situated high enough to see what she's doing. Stand on a chair or at a lower surface like the table if needed.

Additionally, I would note to match the type of knife to the task at hand. A small knife like a paring knife is going to be much easier for a small child to control, but it doesn't have the heft and weight of a large knife, so it will actually be harder to chop hard vegetables like carrots with than a chef's knife. So if you'd like to stick to starting cutting practice with small knives, make sure you pick something fairly soft (eg: strawberries, bananas, peeled cucumber, etc) that will not require fighting the tool.

And of course, remind her every time you practice that it's very important to have mommy's help when you're cutting with sharp knives so you don't get hurt, and that she needs to come get you and have you "watch" (ie: help to the degree needed) if she wants to cut something, no using the knife alone when you aren't watching. At least, until she's fully mastered using knives.

If she really wants to learn to use the knife, she will probably be very willing to pay close attention to all the rules that go with cutting, and be willing to learn them. And if not, put the knife away for a while and try again a different week or month.

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We let ours start to chop from about four years old, but to keep things safe we bought a safety knife for them, which is serrated but very blunt, with a rounded end. The serrations will allow the cutting of most vegetables, although tomatoes may just squash.

It works perfectly for peppers and carrots.

We also found a safe peeler for carrots that reduces the risk of them peeling their fingers, but they never really took to it, so in the end we just waited until they could use a normal one.

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As I understand it, using the wrong tool for any job actually increases the danger. I know using duller or blunter knives than a particular job calls for results in more injuries than in situations where the knife is the correct knife for the job and sharp. Is the knife you mention meant for teaching and so somehow circumvents this factor? If so, where would I find one? –  balanced mama Nov 19 '12 at 15:26
1  
Yes, it is a special training knife - looks very like this: productreview.com.au/p/kiddie-food-kutter-safety-knife.html –  Rory Alsop Nov 19 '12 at 17:02

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