Guest post by Colin Wee
I formerly ran a Montessori playgroup where you’d see lovely flower vases, ceramic plates, and glassware laid out for the children’s morning tea. Children learn to move around a table setting more typically seen at an adults sit down affair. Our mindset is that children can be taught to enjoy their surroundings. Allowing them to use beautiful plates shows them a certain level of respect that they we can trust them to manage themselves to handle delicate beautiful equipment. And if things ever break, the clean up is also a fun learning process without admonishment.
Much of how I’ve approached kids safety using knives whilst cooking has been influenced by my exposure to the Montessori Method.
Age Appropriateness for the Job
You will need to assess your child for their hand-eye coordination, their concentration ability, and the sizing of knife grip used. Avoid the tendency as a parent to dwell on sharpness of the blade or possible injury. Focus on the mechanical processes and determine the age appropriateness of the processes you’ll be stepping your child through.
Work Area and Processes to be Tidy and Clear
Your role is to make sure that your child can concentrate on you and the processes you are demonstrating. Keeping the work area tidy and clear also helps the child focus on the tasks at hand. Essentially, you want to demonstrate to your child the proper way of doing things. Montessori recommends demonstrating the tasks with as few words as possible. I personally would demonstrate the cutting job with as few words as possible, then repeat with descriptive phrases on what you’d expect to be done, and then repeat with safety instructions. Handing over the job to your child then requires you to observe if your child has understood what you’ve said without trying to interrupt too often or to give too many instructions. Let the child perform simple processes and only stop him or her if the child is in immediate danger. You may of course choose to repeat the lesson if you think a lesson has to be repeated.
Simple. Uncomplicated. Uninterrupted. You can’t expect the child to learn everything all at once so let your child focus on your words and phase in the refinement of lessons. Return to basics and to highlight safety aspects or ways to improve processing when needed.
If you would go through the MasterChef magazines and look through the sections for junior recipes, you’d notice that instructions would include to use either a ‘bridge’ or a ‘claw’ hold. The bridge hold lets you handle odd shaped or rounded foods so you can cut them in half. Your fingers and thumb forms what looks like a bridge, and your knife is inserted under this bridge and cuts down vertically. The ‘claw’ technique is used when you’re chopping: the tips of the fingers form a claw to hold on to the food and the first knuckle is placed directly against the knife blade. The knife is lifted only high enough so the food is able to be slid under (not the fingers), and cuts down cleanly. If you don’t know either of these techniques, you should definitely educate yourself in them through youtube.
Direct supervision is the only supervision – but don’t patronise your child! Teach techniques with safety in mind and never distract your child. If you’ve never formally learn how to use knives, you can reach out to the net to figure out better ways of blade handling in order to reduce the incidents of cuts and nicks.
As you see in the photos, my son William 9yo has been cooking regularly for the last year and has been injury free despite using our knives (which I keep very sharp) to cut a variety of different foods. From both him and I, we wish you many sessions of safe knife use whilst enjoying food prep and cooking with the entire family!