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Even though I live in the U.S., I find using a fork inefficient and clumsy. I'd like to teach my son how to use chopsticks as an alternative.

What is the best way to do this without interfering with his learning how to use a fork? Being proficient with a fork is still the higher priority, as chopsticks aren't very common around here (although we keep some at home).

He's 2 and a half now. When should I start?

How do families from cultures where chopsticks are the norm teach their children to use them? I've seen a variety of "children's chopsticks", where the two sticks are connected, but are they effective at teaching?

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I'm imagining my two-year-old son with chopsticks and all the orifices he can jam them into. However you go about it, I'm thinking there'll be a LOT of parental supervision involved. –  Valkyrie Apr 4 '13 at 16:51
    
My younger sister has been using chopsticks her whole life and because of that she doesn't really know how to cut food with a knife. –  asuran_zala Jan 27 at 3:44
    
I had a Korean boy in one of my two's classes that had a little plastic piece that held his chopsticks together for him and he was quite good at using them with that tiny bit of help - but then he used them every single day too. –  balanced mama Jan 27 at 5:06

7 Answers 7

My wife is Asian and we live in her home country. Our daughter is four and she just starting to use chopsticks about a year ago. It takes time to develop the fine-motorskills and she sees everyone around the table using chopsticks three meals per day. That said, I also teach her to use a fork and spoon.

I think four is a good age to start to learn but I also let her play with them. With time, she just figured it out. By now, she can eat with chopsticks. Not perfectly but well enough that she won't go hungry.

My advice is to start now by having 'asian' night once or twice per week and let her start to get comfortable. Young kids can sort out problems much more quickly that we adults can.

Good luck!

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I wouldn't worry about interfering with learning to use a fork or spoon; young children can learn and master all kinds of different things all at once without getting confused. Kids can easily learn to speak multiple languages. Besides, you don't teach kids to use a fork before moving on to the spoon, right? What's important is to expose kids to things at an early age and give them opportunities for regular practice.

Using chopsticks properly requires a certain grip and technique; it's not just a matter of squeezing two sticks together to pick something up. When using chopsticks, the proper technique is to hold the bottom stick stationary while the top stick is the one that actually moves to pick things up.

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The training chopsticks like the ones from Edison (pictured above) have finger rings to teach proper finger placement and grip (similar to kids pencil grips) and should help to develop this technique and reduce the initial frustration. They also have fun characters to make it interesting for the kids. It's still not exactly like real chopsticks, but it will help build confidence to make the transition to the real thing. They even have a stage 2 version that has the pivot point at the fingers instead of at the end.

Also it helps if the adults are all using chopsticks, since kids will naturally want to do whatever the "grown-ups" are doing and it will seem normal to them. Finally, you want to serve food that is easy to pick up with chopsticks; there should be small pieces with flat sides and not too oily or slippery. You don't want anything too small or round like peas. Noodles are easy too. Rice is good if it is properly sticky. (This is part of the reason why Asian food doesn't have big slabs of meat like steak or pork chops.)

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I thought that the pictured "training sticks" were an American crutch but some asking around my Asian friends reveals that they have and use those in Asia as well. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 9 '13 at 15:19

How many adults or teenagers do you know who are eating with their fingers because using tools is too hard? Right, not that many.

I wouldn't worry too much about him "learning to use a fork". Just use chopsticks some meals (the little plastic holder that holds them together is great) and fork and spoon other meals.

Our 4 and 2 year olds each with chopsticks very occasionally (when we are having sushi or otherwise think of it) and they're more or less figuring it out.

If he doesn't think it's fun with the chopsticks (or with the fork for that matter) just put it away and try again a few weeks or months later.

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Kids enjoy chopsticks. You can start with beginner chopsticks, which are joined and sprung, well before they can use a fork. Noodles are especially fun, and make dinner an excellent game.

Our kids started using real chopsticks at about 4 years old, mostly to copy us as we really enjoy Thai and Chinese food.

Just do it. It gives them an extra thing they can do, and may help them feel more comfortable if they are out at a Chinese restaurant.

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My wife, who is from Taiwan, and I use chopsticks for most dinners. Our kids know how to use them and basically what I did was take my queue from her, when they are old enough to hold a fork its old enough for chopsticks. Basically when she was teaching them she stuck them together somehow, depending on where we were and what we had:

  • The quick and easy method was put some folded paper at the end of the chopstick and tie it up with a rubber band, this gives a good space between the sticks and makes it easy for the kids to learn to pick them up.
  • In some Chinese markets you can get kids lunchboxes, some come with kid friendly chopstcks which are smaller, you can combine them with the paper and rubber band and make them easy to use
  • Some Asian markets either have a plastic clip you can put sticks in, and it holds them together, or you can find a rubber piece that holds the sticks in the same fashion but usually has a kid friendly shape - these are similar to the Children's Chopsticks you link to, and yes they worked for us

They watched us, and tried on their own, and it worked well. Only problem was the type of food they used, rice and small things are hard and we gave them spoons for that

I wouldn't worry so much about forks, unless you are eating some type of Asian food for every meal there are still plenty of fork-centric meals available.

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Our nearly-two-years old (23,5 months) son has been "using" chopsticks for about three months. We had an Asian stir-fry for supper one night and he wanted to use the chop sticks just like Mama and Papa so we gave him a pair. He managed to eat most of his plate (the noodles were easy, the tofu was crumbly and difficult!). He mostly used just one stick and shoveled it up and then switched back to his fork when it became too difficult.

Children are never too young to learn something new. My advice is to just give him a set whenever you're using them (in addition to his normal utensil) and he'll learn by watching you; no pressure. If it's not working for him, he can switch back (or use his hands!). Of course it's not a survival tool to use chop sticks as GdD points out, but who cares?! It was a lot of fun for him to do (and us to watch)!

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At 2 and a half I'd concentrate on his learning good fork and spoon skills as that's what he needs in the US. Chopsticks are great to learn, but in the US it's more a skill to impress your friends and look cool than a survival skill. Once he's got the utensils that he's going to use in nursery school and kindergarten down pat go ahead and move on to chopsticks.

As for how to teach him I'd just hand him regular chopsticks and let him soldier on. Training chopsticks don't really translate into real chopstick skills, they just let someone think they're using chopsticks.

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