by Laura Berthiaume April 09, 2022 3 min read
Preparing food is a big leap into independence for children.
It helps build their confidence and can even help with picky eating. You can read more about that here: The Montessori Approach to Picky Eating.
If your child has shown an interest in food prep, or you've already been including them in the kitchen, you may have noticed an interest in chopping and your use of a knife.
Knives and a hot stove are often the two most common limits in the kitchen...
.... which, of course, makes them SO much more interesting to children.
Well, if your child is showing interest in chopping and you're open to encourage this skill, there is a safe approach.
There are 5 steps to safe knife introduction:
Step 1. Demonstrate.
There's a Montessori acronym (SHOW) to keep in mind while demonstrating:
This means that you demonstrate with slow hands and use minimal or no words.
This allows your child to focus on what your hands are doing, instead of your words. This will not only help teach knife skills but any demonstration you're giving to your child.
Step 2. Provide Safe Tools.
We offer 3 stages of knives. Knives like these are good to introduce in a progression. Each one cuts a little better as the child's skill and hand strength grows:
Step 1) Wooden Knife - This is a great first knife. It's dull and can only be used to cut soft fruits or breads but it's an easy way to get started.
Step 2) Serrated Butter Knife or Spreaders - the serrated edge allows children to cut through cheeses, a medium-firm fruits and veggies, i.e. grapes or cucumber.
Step 3) Toddler Knife - A nylon knife like this is still very safe but it can cut through harder vegetables, like a potato, if handled correctly. This one is larger in size so it will take practice.
Step 3. Set them up for success.
Before getting into chopping, make sure all the prep steps are done so your child can focus exclusively on this new skill:
Montessori teaches work in a natural, left to right movement, like reading, so place the uncut fruits and veggies to the left of the cutting board and the bowl for chopped pieces and discards on the right.
Also, ensure your child has a safe place to work. A Learning Tower is a great option to allow the child to work at the counter. They can also work at a low, sturdy table.
Step 4. Trust
You don't need to push knife skills on a child that's not interested.
Wait until they show signs of interest and readiness before beginning this skill. It will make it much easier and safer.
You can introduce knives when you observe that:
When your child shows these signs, you can trust they are ready.
Step 5. Don't Interfere.
Toddlers are more capable than we realize.
If you've given the demonstration, the work area is setup properly, and you're supervising, then avoid interfering unless your child is doing something unsafe, like chopping too quickly or getting too close to their fingers.
During the toddler years, no language is best.
Like I mentioned above, when demonstrating, use minimal language so your child can focus on your movements.
Draw attention to your fingers holding the fruit steady and starting to chop at the opposite end.
When it is their turn, do not narrate what they are doing or make comments/praise. Sit quietly and observe so they can focus.
If you want to use language, use it minimally and be specific, i.e. “Stop cutting now. The knife is getting too close to your fingers.”
Saying words like “be careful” or “watch your fingers” does not provide them with enough information on what to look out for.
Also, saying things like “be careful or you might cut your fingers” is setting them up for something that hasn’t happened yet and could create fear.
You can talk about safety and proper handling of knives when an opportunity presents itself but initially, after you demonstrate, you want to trust and give your child a chance.
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