Toddlers love to be included in activities that they see us do every day, especially when it comes to preparing food. Including our toddlers in cooking helps to empower them, expands their vocabulary, and gives them ownership over the meal, which often leads to them trying a wider variety of foods and eating more at mealtimes.
💡 Today we have tips from Bridget, the author of The Montessori Guide.
Cooking is also the perfect opportunity to practice fine motor skills. Offering a wide variety of utensils for your children to use while cooking helps to improve their dexterity and grip strength.
Knives are one of my favorite kitchen tools to help develop fine motor skills.
How to Introduce Knives to Toddlers
Young children can do amazing things in the kitchen. Before finding Montessori, the thought of giving a toddler a knife sounded dangerous and outrageous to me. Now I know how capable children are and that they can learn to use knives safely if properly introduced.
Where to Start with Toddler Knife Skills
I like to start by teaching children how to chop soft foods with an easy-to-hold chopper, graduating to a nylon knife with soft foods, and then moving to harder foods, gradually supporting the safe use of a real knife. This progression allows toddlers to build different skills with each knife in preparation for using a sharp blade.
You know your child best, it is important to observe them while they work with a particular knife. When you see that they have mastered one knife, move on to the next knife in the progression.
Crinkle Cutter or Wavy Chopper
I like starting with a chopper when my children are around 15 months olds, once they are walking and standing stably. These types of knives have a handle above the blade that can be grasped in any place (rather than at the end of the blade) and encourage pushing straight down, which is often easier for young children to control.
I like to start with banana slicing and then move on to other soft foods, such as cooked carrots, tofu, peeled cucumbers, peeled and cored fruits, and cheese.
Once my children have practiced with their wavy chopper and developed some more hand and wrist control, I increase the difficulty by introducing knives with a blade on one side and a handle on the other.
This is a great knife to start with because it is not sharp but still conveys that there is a side of the knife to hold and a side to use with food. I like to introduce this knife with crackers and easy-to-spread nut butters. Other great uses for spreading knives include avocado on toast and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
After some practice with a spreading knife, your child will be ready to move on to a nylon knife. While less sharp than a metal knife, these knives still have a relatively sharp blade and are great for chopping all of the foods that your child had been chopping with their wavy cutter, for cucumbers and fruits the peel can be left on.
Metal Child’s Knife
Once your child has mastered using a nylon knife they are ready to use a metal child’s knife. These knives are sharp enough to cut through harder vegetables such as potatoes and squash.
Tips For Cutting Practice:
- Cut cylindrical foods such as cucumbers and potatoes in half lengthwise so that they don’t roll around.
- Cut off stems, cores, or any other parts of the food you do not want to end up in the dish before giving it to your child.
- Add a damp paper towel or thin cloth under your child’s cutting board so it won’t slide around.
- When your child is preparing food, have a bowl for food scraps and a bowl for prepared ingredients.
How to present knife skills to toddlers:
Always supervise your child when they are using a knife and make sure they are using it appropriately. Each of the suggested knives is designed for children to use, but they still must be used with care.
When first introducing a new knife draw your child’s attention to where the blade is and where to hold the knife. First, show them how to use the knife. Slice the food, place the cut slice in a bowl.
Move slowly and exaggerate your movements. You do not need to talk them through the process; it is best to let your child learn by watching you.
After you have demonstrated the process, let your child have a turn. Do not place your hand over their hand while they slice, instead allow them to make a slice themselves.
It can be helpful for you to hold the food still while they slice. Their slices will likely be uneven at first, but as they practice they will improve.
Knife Safety for Toddlers in the Kitchen
If you notice that your child’s finger is going to be under the blade, calmly point it out and ask them to hold the food further back. “Your finger is close to the knife, move your hand back, so that you can cut your banana.” For children who are just starting with a knife, you may have to help them slide their hand back for them.
One of the most important parts of knife safety is where you store your knives. Make sure that knives are always kept well out of reach, especially the adult knives, and that there is no potential of your child pulling a knife down off the counter onto themselves.
Chopping at a low table instead of at the counter can also reduce the risk of a falling knife.
Introducing knife skills early on leads to children who are confident and comfortable working in the kitchen. The more active you are in the kitchen, the more likely your toddler will want to work in the kitchen alongside you. Preparing meals with your child teaches them basic life skills while allowing you to work towards a common goal as a team. No matter your child’s skill level, there is nothing better than sitting down to enjoy a meal you worked to make together.
Thanks to Bridget for this guidance on introducing knives to toddlers. She is a Montessori mama and co-author of A Complete Guide to a Montessori Kitchen: From Six Months to Age 4: Everything you need to know to set up a Montessori kitchen and dining space, give your toddler independence in the kitchen, and raise a joyful, respectful eater.