Kitchen knives

If you are not a believer in children using knives for food preparation, look away.

Right, now let’s talk.

I think knife skills are pretty high up there in the ‘practical life’ stakes. They are necessary and ubiquitous. We all use them everyday. They also carry a whiff of danger that makes them pretty darn attractive as well as being symbols of growing up.

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First I start with the knives you get in an ordinary children’s cutlery set. Over the years we have acquired a few of these. Ikea always has at least one type, and the good cutlery name brands often make a set too. You can sometimes also find them at children’s stores or occasionally department stores like Big W or Harris Scarfe.

We use these at mealtimes from a very young age. This allows it to be under fairly tight supervision and in a way that the children are using them while being exposed to modelling. We usually cut young children’s food at the table in front of the child rather than presenting them with already cut food, unless that’s how I would serve it to an adult too. Modelling is SO important!

At the same time I start to introduce cutting in playdough play. We have a small plastic knife I use for this, but I actually can’t remember where we got it from. We also use some plastic cutters that are sold for kiwi fruit.

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All of this takes place before they get to real knives. By the time they pick up a knife designed for cutting real things they have already have great deal of information about how knives are used, a lot of safety information and a sense of knives being just another tool.

So when I have seen a fairly consistant use of knives correctly, and a general willingness and ability to follow instructions, it’s time. When it’s time to chop something hard, I introduce my proper knife. Celery is a good transition item.

Although I explicitly teach all the knife safety rules, this is really when you see if you have been modelling safe knife handling! I explicitly teach how to pass a knife and why we do it that way. I talk about how and why to keep fingers clear of the blade, and about not cutting towards yourself.

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My go-to knife for children is a vegetable knife. As small as a paring knife, this knife is reasonably easily managed by children, and it has a flat, rounded end that I think is safer for children to use. The knife itself should not be too dull. I know this seems counterintuitive, but a blunt knife requires a lot more force to actually cut, meaning slips of the blade are much more likely and thus there is a higher risk of injury. (If you don’t believe that, try cutting an apple with a dinner knife. How controlled are your cuts?) Another thing to keep in mind is that we may need to check the height of the cutting. A child shouldn’t be cutting too high! Not only does it put the head and neck too close to the cutting area, but a child reaching up to cut can not effectively use body weight to help cut and is likely, again to use more force than they should be. Not to mention it hurts the shoulders!

All my children so far have gone through a ‘smoosh stage’. This is when the joy of cutting out weighs the fun of eating and food gets… umm… diced… but not eaten. My two pronged attack for that one is to offer playdough for chopping while removing the food. I try hard not to stress about the food. It can usually be thrown on top of a salad, frozen and thrown into a smoothie or served on breakfast cereal.

Yes, I do worry that they will hurt themselves. I am a mother, I can’t turn that off. But like all things in life we do our best to make sure they have the skills they will need, then hold our breath and let them try it.

Dealing with Meals

Having my children at home means that by necessity we eat at home more often too. And that means a different type of work from making school lunches. I wanted to share some of the things that have worked for us. As usual, Your mileage may vary.

What doesn’t work for us is leaving it free for all, all day long without specific meals for a plan in my head for what we are going to eat. I am sure some people work well with that, but when we do it, it results in a great deal of mess, dishes that could cause an avalanche and children who have eaten nothing all day but apples! So we gave that one up.

 LUNCHBOXES

Sometimes we do this even if we are going to be home. Sometimes it works. 😉 Lunchboxes allow us to have a variety of foods ready, so my boys eat protein and salad and complex carbs. I can include lots of things that they enjoy but might not necessarily think to eat on their own. Lunch boxes have saved us in the early babydaze, or when I am unwell,  since DH can do them in the morning and they are all sorted for the day.

The down side of lunch boxes is that sometimes my older two would eat the most interesting bits out of them and then spend a lot of time complaining about what was left.

COLOUR CO-ORDINATING

I’m not going to lie. This is one of those things I never thought I would do. Who wants to be stuck with the specific colour all the time? Then there is the colour battles when a certain colour isn’t available. BUT as the children and sleep deprivation have both increased, and the workload too, I have discovered why generations of mothers have done it. It makes life simpler. It’s much easier to omit disliked, or reactive food items from specific plates, dramatically reduces washing up, and makes clean up much easier. I am amazed at how much more happily my children respond when I can remind them specifically that they haven’t yet put their plate on the sink, instead of generally pronouncing that someone hasn’t put their plate away.  It even makes it easier to repackage uneaten food too! Morning tea fruit can be put in the fridge on the colour coded plate and then just put next to lunch’s sandwiches. And my children love it. Go figure!

LEFTOVERS

Leftovers from the night before do make great lunches, but think broader. Children can be somewhat wasteful sometimes, and while I am not going to be draconian about that, I do want to minimise it as much as possible. So I try to reuse leftovers. The colour coding makes this fairly easy. And if you are a little creative, it doesn’t feel like leftovers! Best tip from my mum: Uneaten fruit can often be chopped and quickly stewed for a breakfast topping, ‘desert’ or even snack.  Lots of other foods can be ‘repackaged’ by adding a sprinkle of cheese, or putting it in a sandwich, serving it over plain pasta, or on a cracker. Ta-da!

EAT OUTSIDE

Call it a picnic. Just take out the mess with you. Don’t forget to bring the plates back in (See colour coding).

SERVE YOURSELF

Self serve really draws children in. Primus will serve himself (and eat) more salad than I would ever get away with! Autonomy is SO important. Remember that dishing up what you will actually eat is a pretty complex skill and one even adults get wrong. And don’t forget all the fine motor skills and social learning that takes place!

RHYTHMIC MEAL TIMES

Everyone’s rhythm is different, but I found it was really important for me to notice and prepare for the ‘hungry times’. For example, I found that  my children would often be starving an hour before dinner, eat a pile of fruit (because I was distracted trying to cook), then not be hungry come mealtime. Then they were waking up starving during the night or in the early morning. The solution has been to offer a substantial snack about an hour before they were eating. Bingo! No energy crash!

GET LOTS OF IDEAS AND EXPERIMENT

I haven’t got it all figured out and even if I did, what works for us might not work for you. Just try it and see. And I am always open to good ideas, so share yours with me.

Snack time: Part 1

I consider snack time part of our educational programme. 😉 Ignore for the moment that it is necessary and fun – when these things happen in the classroom it goes on the teacher’s plan, why couldn’t it be part of yours? ‘Food Curriculum’ is an easy way to incorporate other learning. Here are some ideas for two Key Learning Areas. Food is such an important part of human culture that there is little it doesn’t touch, and you will easily think of more to add. (When you do, let me know!)

Health and Physical Education

Yes, healthy eating, but what about interpersonal skills? Mealtimes and snacks provide a fantastic opportunity for modeling manners and etiquette.

Montessori theory talks about Grace and Courtesy lessons, and teaches them explicitly but not at point of need. We do this usually by talking about manners, but not when a child fails to use manners, but beforehand. Then we model, model, model. I am aiming for my children to use manners not to get treats, but because they want to. To me, manners aren’t about codes or ‘magic words’.  Manners are just about conventional ways of showing another person we respect them as a human being.

But that’s probably a whole different post, so moving on. 🙂

The Social Sciences (aka Society and Environment or Social Studies)

The Little City Kids curriculum has some really interesting ways to incorporate snack time into learning about a particular topic – albeit heavy on the sugar sometimes.  Our jelly layers were a fun way to demonstrate stratigraphy in the ground.

Dino Layer Jelly

One of my favourite lessons I did as a teacher involved making an edible (ice cream) model of a comet, and as a Guide Leader I have made working edible aquifers.  (Which reminds me, I haven’t done either of those with my children yet…)

Food is invaluable in the study of culture. As a basic human need all societies must find a way to meet that need, so food provides a great bridge between cultures and a wonderful way to demonstrate diversity and similarity. This is an important concept in Montessori, which prides itself on being education for peace.

Cultural cuisine is a fairly obvious inclusion here, but it is fun! What about ancient foods?  Did you know the Minoans grew poppies? What a great excuse for orange and poppy-seed cake!

The use of culturally appropriate eating tools, like chopsticks, or the use of bread as scoops, is good (messy) fun, and again provides a bridge between cultures, embracing similarities and differences. (Did you know, for example, that the chopsticks used in Japan are a little different from those used in China?)

More

Dinosaurs

I found an unpublished post from a few months go I thought I’d share.

We have been looking at dinosaurs the past couple of weeks, sort of loosely following the prospective here. I thought I’d share some of our work.

A. making dinosaur skin using a variety of dried pulses.

Layer jelly, showing how material gets stratified in rock.

Dinosaurs are one of those topics that has plenty of activities around. You could spend months on it!

Kitchen Gadgets for Children

I’ve already told you about my mortar and pestle, last week we bought a new gadget, and I wanted to share. The melon baller! Of course we had to buy a melon to try it out. Yes, it will be the last one of the season.

I use kitchen gadgets with kids because they are fun, they let the boys do things they otherwise couldn’t, they help them prepare their own snacks (and sometimes eat new things), and they are great for fine motor skills. I got the idea for introducing them from the Micheal Olaf catalogue. I keep an eye out for good ones everywhere, and I’ve had a lot of luck at Ikea. The main thing to look for is that they are real tools, not just toys and that they are small enough for them to be used comfortably.

The favourites in our house are:

  • Melon baller – apparently you can use them for making butter balls too, though I haven’t tried it – yet!
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Biscuit cutters – use with sandwiches and playdough too.
  • Apple cutter – We got this at Ikea but I can’t find it online now. I’ve seen similar in Kitchen shops
  • Tongs – My children love dishing up their own salad or whatever at the dinner table.
  • Small ‘creamer’ jug – perfect for pouring practise.

I really want to get some children’s chopsticks I’ve seen. We use chopsticks sometimes, and I know the boys would like to learn. Many years ago, a Cantonese friend made a training pair for another friend by linking to tops of them with a rubber band, but I’ve never got it to work. I think these would be the next best thing. So if you see them, let me know! It just doesn’t seem worth paying more for postage than the actual thing!

Do you have any favourite kitchen gadgets your children use?

Making Dessert

Last night, after tea, Little Engineer announced he was going to make some dessert. Given that we had already been to a morning tea where the boys had overdosed on sugar – and so had I – and the fact that it was getting late, I suggested stewed apples. He agreed.

He peeled and cut up the apples (using his apple cutter – a fantastic gadget for children because it removes the core too, without the dangerous ‘scooping’ with the knife) and decided to add currants. Into the microwave and tada! dessert.

Stewed apple with currants

Summer Smoothies

Enjoying summer

This is one summer ritual  I am not yet ready to give up!

In the early afternoon, we gather the supplies from the fridge. We love any combination of watermelon, berries, banana, yogurt, peaches, or pineapple, but whatever is on hand can be used. Then we blend it all! We don’t always add milk. Watermelon in particular is a good ingredient for making the final product a drinkable consistency.

It must be consumed OUTSIDE, and it has to have a straw. It is lovely to see C. starting to make his own blends. He’s much more creative – or brave – than I am!

I relly enjoy the colours of these drinks, they are so pretty.

As Autumn sets in, we will drink more warm drinks: tea, milo, or just warm milk; but for now, it’s warm enough to keep playing with the smoothies.

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