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.

Snack Time Part 2

Technology and Enterprise

I’ve already written about my use of kitchen gadgets. Both the preparation and consumption of food can involve learning the appropriate and safe use of tools. It is great for children to be able to prepare and their own food. It even helps hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skill!

Finds from the junk shop

This is a super easy practical life and sorting activity. It just so happens that there are exactly six pairs in this cheap eraser set. Even better!

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It’s All Greek To Me

This week we went back to Little City Kids Curriculum We are moving very slowly with this, but we are up to the topic ” It’s All Greek to Me”. We have already looked at the Minoans, and the Mycenaeans, and this unit is looking at Greek culture in general. What I love about it is that it exposes children to big ideas yet lets them work at their own level, so I can use it with both Primus and Secondus. We used some old sheets to create Ancient Greek clothes.

Dressing up ideas. There was also a whiteboard with further information about common clothes for men, women, children and babies.

For younger children, such as Secondus, doing up pegs is a challenge in itself, developing finger strength and co-ordination.

Pegging up

We also looked at some Geometric designed pottery from the Greek dark ages.

Plate decoration materials ready to go.

We have recently raided the library for books and  ideas – this is on topic that has plenty.
My current plan is to move more quickly through Little City Kids, spending about a fortnight on each topic. This will leave plenty to do when we revisit later but will help give a broad sweep of history. Later specific details can be filled in more thoroughly.

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?

Crushing Almonds

A mortar and pestle is great fun!

And have I mentioned that a dining chair makes a great toddler work surface. It’s just the right height and it can be moved to wherever you are, so they are always nearby.

As a disclaimer, I know whole nuts are not recommended for under fours. I also know that A. always crushes them well before he eats them and I always make sure I’m watching him very closely. We also use crackers and biscuits.

Practical Life Activities

Set up on a kitchen chair, this helps keep the boys busy!

My boys love practical life activities. Montessori uses them to develop skills to be used in real life, as well as hand-eye co-ordination, left-to-right association and finger strength.

This particular setup was for A. –  C. could do it very easily, so I would probably give him some tongs or something! The objective is to transfer the nuts from the left bowl to the right using the spoon. A. had fun, until he mastered it, then he just tipped the nuts from one bowl to the other!

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