If you follow any of the popular Montessori family accounts on social media, you may have watched some of the impressive food prep videos that show young children:
It can be helpful to remember that these parents have involved their children in the kitchen for at least a few months, if not years, to get videos like this.
These skills weren't taught overnight.
Knife skills, in particular, require children to have good hand strength and fine motor skills, as well as plenty of patience.
And even when a child is physically ready to try chopping, not every parent feels comfortable introducing knives, even child-safe ones.
The good news is - there's no need to rush to the cutting board. There's TONS of other food prep activities that your child can participate in, like:
1. Washing fruits and vegetables - This can be done in the sink (with a Learning Tower) or on the ground/on a low children's table in a bowl.
2. Tearing lettuce or kale for a salad with their hands - This is great for fine motor skills.
3. Breaking ends off of green beans or asparagus - Provide two bowls, one for the discarded ends and one for the edible parts. This will keep their workspace organized, which is not just for the adult. Young children thrive on order so it's helpful for them too.
4. Mashing boiled potatoes/carrots/sweet potatoes (let them cool a little first) or avocados (make guacamole or spread it on toast) - A small, child-sized masher can be helpful for this work, since it'll be easier for them to use.
Show your child how to hold the bowl with one hand (or you can hold it) and then mash and push the pieces up against the side to make it smooth.
5. Peeling fruits - bananas, oranges, clementines, etc. This activity is great for fine motor skills and developing confidence. Many children get a lot of satisfaction and joy from completing food/snack prep entirely on their own.
6. Spreading sauce on pizza crust with a spoon - You could also add sauces, dressing, or condiments to little squeeze bottles, like these, and allow your child to add it to a dish.
By portioning the liquids for your child, you won't have to hover, worrying how much they'll add. They can simply add the entire container.
7. Balling a Melon - you can also just use a spoon if you don’t have a melon baller. This is fantastic work for hand strength.
8. Juicing oranges or lemons - this activity is great for strengthening the hand and you can make lemonade or orange juice together. A juicer like this works well for younger children because the juice easily flows right into a container.
9. Washing dishes - another activity that can be done at the counter with a bowl and Learning Tower or on the ground/low table. It's really surprising how long some children will focus on this activity if left uninterrupted. The water, bubbles, sponge, and opportunity to practice a skill they see their parents do daily, makes it incredibly enticing.
Typically children have such an interest in food prep because it's something they see the role models in their life (you!) do every day.
So if your child wants to work with you in the kitchen, these are all wonderful (low stress) ways to get started.
All That Being Said...
If you do feel that your child is ready and interested in learning how to use a knife, here's our five step approach to teaching children knife skills.
The most important considerations before introducing a knife are:
your child shows an interest
you feel comfortable (your child will pick up on your nervousness and it will make the whole situation much more stressful)
you have the appropriate tools for their age/skill (you can find suggestions in theintro post)