When people watch my children in the kitchen, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “Aren’t you worried about them using a knife?”. While safety is very important and we are always reminding them to use their knives safely, I do not worry because we have spent the time upfront to make sure that they have the knife skills they need to safely do the job. There are a few keys to good knife skills for children that will help them be able to use knives appropriately in the kitchen.
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Choose the Right Knife for the Job
This is one area that is challenging for a lot of parents. How do you choose the right knife for the child and the job? First, we need to understand that ‘dull knives’ are not the solution. This particularly applies to knives that are supposed to be sharp but are not and in cutting things that do not cut easily. If you are trying to cut something with a dull knife you are more likely to slip and cut yourself.
When we start our children with a knife (somewhere around 2 or 3 depending on the child and their interest/development) we start with a butter knife and a lettuce knife. While a butter knife is not a particularly sharp knife, it is not designed to be sharp, and is used to cut things that are soft and easily sliced. This works great for soft fruits and cutting up veggies on their dinner plates. For harder vegetables and fruits that need a sharper knife you can use a lettuce knife. I love these knives because they will cut right through many foods but will not cut your child. As soon as we introduce them to these knives we begin instruction so that they learn to use the knives properly and safely.
As they get older and begin to use regular kitchen and chef’s knives, we make sure they are kept clean and sharpened. You want them to be able to slice what they are cutting and not feel like they have to ‘hack’ at it. It is also beneficial to choose knives that fit well in their hands so that they are able to handle them comfortably. My two older children both received a Sabatier-K chef’s knife for Christmas a couple of years ago that works very well for them. It is a high quality but reasonably priced knife that fits well in their hands. We purchased ours from their outlet store but they are also available on Amazon. At 11 and 12 they can both do any cutting that is required for the meals that they cook.
Instruction is vital to good knife skills. While a young child’s fine motor skills may not allow for perfect knife skills in the beginning, you do not want bad habits to develop. For older children or if you need a little refresher yourself, Alton Brown has an episode titled American Slicer that can help with knife skills.
You want to make sure they learn to curl their fingers under and away from the knife, to have a good surface to cut on, to cut or peel away from their bodies, and to be aware of what is around them as they are cutting (make sure baby’s hand isn’t on the cutting board, etc). They need to learn not to run with the knife, to carry it point down like a pair of scissors, and not to swing it around like a toy.
When you begin teaching about knives it is important that young children understand that they may only use the knife with permission and under supervision. As they get older they can be allowed more freedom.
It is really important that we give them opportunities to practice. It can often seem easier and certainly quicker to just take care of it ourselves. However, giving them multiple opportunities to practice will help grow their skills and confidence. Like many life skills the more they practice the easier it will become, just be sure to continue to monitor for safety until you are confident that they are consistently using the appropriate safety measures.
Teaching children to use knives can feel scary at first but it is a life skill that is so very important. Accidents do happen, but proper training and experience greatly decreases the risk! I highly encourage you to take the time to teach them well and enjoy the shared time in the kitchen. What kitchen skills are you wanting to teach your children?
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