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Article: Cuts Like a Knife: Kids in the Kitchen

Andrea Richards

Cuts Like a Knife: Kids in the Kitchen

Like most kids, mine love shiny, sparkling objects, all the more so if they have sharp points and a real potential for dismemberment. So knives are a sure-bet— if there’s one in the room, they are going to find it, sniffing it out with the same mysterious sixth sense they have for finding sugar and wrapped birthday gifts. My oldest daughter was obsessed with knives since her early days; if I cut up an apple in front of her she never cried out for a slice, she wanted the blade. Even with cake, it was all about the instrument (well, and the icing). Like most first-time parents, I knew enough about infant safety to keep the sharp objects away, and now that they are older, I still abide by the no-running-with-scissors rule (scissors are a whole other story — any unsupervised use of scissors around here results in toddler-made haircuts). But I’m letting my four-year-old use a paring knife on a regular basis these days — always with me overseeing her, of course. And it’s great—she helps me prep and cook dinner almost every night. She’s a girl who loves her knife.


Two years ago, when she first started preschool you can imagine my surprise when, on her very first day, I walked into the classroom with her and there were a bunch of toddlers wielding butter knives. (Okay, not nearly as bad as it sounds. In reality they were three of them sitting at a table, very competently cutting soft, boiled potatoes on cafeteria trays, all under the close watch of a teacher.) But still, it shocked me that this activity was deemed appropriate for people I still don’t trust to even carry a glass of water around. As much as I stared at the scene in disbelief and horror, my daughter, who’d spent her short life on this earth dying to get a hold of one of these shiny, metallic magical cutting wands greeted it like Christmas Day. She sat down, had a few seconds of instruction on how to properly hold the knife and where to place her fingers, and happily began gutting a perfectly innocent potato. Ever since then, she’s been happily cutting up soft veggies (steamed or cooked) and fruits (melons, berries, kiwi) along with pastas, breads, and her personal favorite—butter. But she wanted to do more, and when I saw her come at a piece of raw broccoli with her dull knife, I realized it would be safer for her to use a sharp blade. So I started letting her use my smallest size paring knife—always with me right beside her. Now she can cut raw veggies —carrots, celery, cauliflower—and hard fruits. I’m still somewhat freaked out when I hand a sharp knife over to my four-and-a-half year old but as long as she follows the rules my fear is outweighed by the joy of seeing the pride she takes in her work. And being entrusted with something she knows is dangerous boosts her confidence. Plus, it’s nice to have my own prep cook too. (Although she refuses to do onions.)

Our House Rules for Playing with Knives

1. Never play with a knife. They are tools used for cutting food only. 2. Always have a grown-up with you. 3. Hold the knife properly (we do it with one hand, pointer finger on top of the blade). 4. Protect your fingers. I teach them to curve in the fingers they are holding the food with so as not to lob off the edge of a digit. This is the area that makes me the most nervous so I sometimes hold the food for my daughter, or just make sure my veggies are super long so there’s a safe distance. 5. Never take the knife off the cutting board. (I’m trying to teach her to cut while keeping the tip of the blade on the board, chef-style, which is harder but gives her more control.) When not cutting something, always put the knife down on the cutting board. 6. Keep your attention on the knife at all times. Distraction is a real danger when holding a sharp object — say your baby sister comes running in the kitchen with her underwear on her head. You can’t look up until you put the knife down in a safe spot.

I’m not a professional cook or certified childcare provider, so if you really want to school your kids on knife safety, there are lots of good video tutorials and other tips online. But knives have taught me two things about parenting: first, kids love to do real work (it’s “play” for them) and two, taking the time to teach them to use an instrument properly and with respect saves time in the end. So sharpen your blades, the kids want to cut.   See more posts from Andrea HERE and below!



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