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Kids Safety Using Knives

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.

Task
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.

Knife Handling
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.

Safety
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!

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    BookChook
    January 1, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Colin, thanks for the excellent instructions! I worry that our society has tended to go too far with protecting kids from any possible injury, thus raising kids who don’t know how to take acceptable risks. If we teach kids how to use tools correctly, they won’t need to experiment behind our backs.

    Children can achieve so much if we give them respect and introduce them to all the world’s wonders.

  • Reply
    Kelly Be A Fun Mum
    January 1, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Excellent post Colin. And I’m with BC here… I do worry our society is so safety conscious (mostly due to litigation issues) that our children don’t have the opportunity to learn in the same way I did. But at home, I do try and find the balance between safety and allowing my children to learn. My older girls can safely boil the jug and make a cup of tea. My eldest daughter, the same age as your son, loves cooking in the kitchen. She’s not a real breakfast cereal person and one day she asked if I could make eggs for breakfast (a favourite of hers). I’m like “NOOOOOOOOO” it will take too much time, be messy etc. And then I thought: why don’t I teach her to do it herself. So I gave her a lesson and now she safely makes her eggs herself… and cleans up too!

    My knife skills are pretty crap. So I need to brush up on them a little so thank you for the links.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Trish
    January 1, 2011 at 11:17 am

    HI Colin

    I really enjoyed reading your techniques and ideas for kids using knives…I have to admit I am one of those “worrying” mums – My daughter who is 10 has never used a knife bar a dinner knife and I was just thinking the other day how i shoud start letting her as i have ‘battle scars’ from cutting up fruit/etc as a kid while using knives haha but i was a lot younger than her …I was never taught so I do appreciate this thinking… I also do teacher aide work and work with kids often so this will also come in handy for school.

  • Reply
    Marita
    January 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Excellent post Colin. We really struggle with Annie using knives because of her super bendy joints, things tend to slip when they shouldn’t. But we continue to practice because it really is the only way she will learn… although lots of supervised practice and mostly with bread and butter knives until her muscles get stronger.

  • Reply
    Michelle Dennis Evans
    January 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Great post – great reminder….
    I tend to still give my boy (10) a blunter knife and cutting meat etc for him … great instructions here to help me proceed to letting him use the sharp knives.

  • Reply
    Hear Mum Roar
    January 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Very nicely done! I have to admit, I use the safety type knives with my eldest daughter (and butter knives for the littlies), because their vision isn’t great, so I have to be a little careful.

  • Reply
    Colin Wee
    January 3, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Again, I’m really with everyone trying to gauge and assess where their children are at. Certainly safety is a number one priority – and that’s why it is so important to have direct parent supervision whilst they still have their training wheels on. There’s no magic bullet here. I’ve got a related post up tomorrow The Montessori Parent Struggles to Not Praise Their Children – where I’ve included a backlink to this article. The article talks about the Montessori belief that children need to develop an inner satisfaction for job completion and that this is in turn distracted by a parent heaping praise on their job. It’s something for all of us to bear in mind. There is a time for training, and then there is a time for your child to be push off that ledge … know what I mean? Good luck to all of us! Cheers, Colin

  • Reply
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  • Reply
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