“How do you teach them to use knives when cooking?”
This is one of the things I get asked most often. Along with “Do you use a special knife?”
I hope to answer some of your questions here, but look out for more knife articles and guides coming here soon.
Which knife do you use?
When using sharp knives, I demonstrate first, I teach safe knife handling techniques and I teach safe hold of vegetables.
Each child receives 1:1 attention until they are fully competent using a sharp knife, and even then they are never left alone, but watched closely.
If cutting soft fruit or veg, or with very young children, we sometimes just use normal cutlery knives – the children have to saw a bit, but I feel happier with them doing that a little more independently which builds their confidence.
However the sawing motion with cutlery knives has been irking me somewhat lately, it seems a bit unnatural to progress from that onto a very sharp knife that can slip through the veg so easily when they are used to the applying more pressure and a sawing motion. I kind of wanted a happy medium to bridge the gap. (scroll down to the bottom to find the results of my search)
I’ve also noticed that (as a parent) when I allowed my children to use sharp knives at home, my anxiety (even though I teach hundreds of children sometimes on a 1:26 basis at school to use knives safely) went through the roof and I felt like I wanted to grab the knife from my child and just stop the whole thing.
Kids do pick up on this – and it makes them nervous… which in turn can make things more dangerous. So really it is best to remain outwardly calm and confident, but so much easier said than done!
Teach your child the basics first!
It’s far more important to cover the following basics first regardless of which knife you use.
- Start by showing your child around the knife. Teach them how to identify which is the sharp edge and which is the blunt edge.
- Establish your household knife ground rules. Where are they stored? Who is allowed to get them out? Do they need to ask first? When are they allowed to use a knife in the kitchen?
- Teach your child how to pass the knife safely to someone else.
- Show your child how to carry a knife (if they are walking around with one)
- Demonstrate the safe way to hold a knife.
Children naturally start by holding kitchen implements at the very top end furthest away from the action. This gives them far less control and a clumsy motion – and we certainly do not want that when handling knives!
So encourage them to hold the knife as close to where the handle meets the blade as possible with a firm grip using the whole hand and not just fingers.
Teach by showing
- The best way to teach is by showing / demonstrating.
- Show your child how to cut by placing the point of the knife on the board first and then levering the knife downwards from there.
- Demonstrate how to hold the fruit or veg safely. I’ll show the main grips I use in more detail in another blog – coming soon in video format.
- Encourage them to work slowly and methodically and to keep their eye on the job at all times. No talking whilst chopping!
Make it age / ability appropriate
- Use soft fruit and veg for little children such as banana, cucumber, mushroom etc
- Do not use very small fruit and veg (e.g. grapes) for young children or beginners – there is not enough for them to hold onto
- Don’t worry about the pieces being too big, too small or uneven. It’s the technique, not the end result that is important to begin with.
- Make sure that little children are working at the appropriate height so that the work surface is about waist height – I often use the kitchen table as it is lower and kneeling on a chair is often a good way to start at the right height.
- Make it fun! If it’s tedious, or you are striving for perfection, your little one will tire of it and possibly not want to do it again. Celebrate successes and reward them for their achievements.
Here is a video my nephew Sam and I made together to show off his culinary skills.
There is so much more I can talk about on this topic, so watch this space for further articles.
About my favourite Child friendly knife
Although it’s not essential to buy and use a child safety knife, the confidence that owning a good one can bring very quickly is wonderful. ]
If things are a little tense for you when your child ‘helps’ in the kitchen, this could bring you a bit of reprieve whilst still allowing your child to help and teaching them all the good tips, skills and advice above.
The knife that I recommend is my favourite because it cuts anything and everything that you could possibly wish to cut in the kitchen (but not fingers) easily and effortlessly. Yet it is blunt and cannot easily cut your child’s fingers. In fact, it is so easy to use (even for onions!) I use it more often than not now at home… and my mum (who helps at my cookery classes) has asked to buy one too!
Here it is.
If you’d like to see this fab knife in action – take a look at this video of me trying it out. You can watch the video by clicking on the photo.
Whilst I am able to use my own stock of these when teaching, I don’t currently have a supplier and therefore unfortunately these knives are no longer for sale. I’m working on an alternative supply for these, so please do sign up to my newsletter for updates if you are interested and would like to know as soon as they become available.