Summer school: how to teach your kid knife skills!

Summer is a great time to upgrade your kiddo’s kitchen skills—the combination of relaxed downtime and ripe produce is a great motivator for kids to learn how to make their own snacks—or better yet, help you out with meal preparation! And, with a trained sous-chef to help you out in September, back-to-school will be a breeze. Today, we're talking about how to teach your kid knife skills with confidence.

Photo credit: Channing Rodman (all rights reserved)

Teaching your kid knife skills can sound a little daunting, but it’s actually a key part of safety training in the kitchen—and with a little preparation, your kid’s focus will pleasantly surprise you. You can tell your child is ready to learn knife skills if:

  • They can stand solidly on a stool in front of a counter, and can see what they’re working on.

  • They can focus on a task (and keep looking at it) with a little prompting from you.

How to get started:

For small children who have never handled a knife before, start by giving them playdoh and a lettuce knife or plastic knife to practice with. Let them use a butter knife to put a spread on toast to get a sense of how it feels to hold a knife by the handle. You can also give them a banana and a cutting board, and show them how to peel—and then slice—the banana with a plastic knife for a snack. Here’s a fun guide for how one family does this with their preschooler.

When you’re ready to teach them to chop:  

Start by picking a quieter time when both of you can focus on the cutting board. Having a snack together first is a great idea to take the edge off any jangly nerves!

Then, make sure your child is standing high enough to see the cutting board—you’ll likely need a sturdy stool. Talk your child through these basic rules: only cut on the cutting board; only cut when no one else’s hands are on the cutting board; always look where your fingers are before you cut; and never use a knife without adult supervision.

Pick a cut to practice that works for your kid and the produce they’re chopping: that might be the claw, “the bridge” (you can see great pics in the playdoh demo at the bottom of this post) or “the chop” - a great beginner’s cut where your child lays their hand flat on top of the knife (illustrated in the photo at the top of this post!)

Prep the food they’re cutting by making it as flat and easy to cut for them as possible. If they’re cutting a cucumber or zucchini, you may find it helpful to pre-cut it lengthwise into quarters to make it easier for little hands to handle—with rounder items (like an apple), be sure to slice off the ends to make it more stable. Start with bigger, softer items: think peeled banana, cucumber, ripe pear or zucchini. Strawberries, plums, peaches and apples (slice the round ends off so they’re more stable) are next level up cutting. Leave harder root veggies and carrots until your kid is comfortable slicing with a sharp knife.  

As a bonus: If little ones have their own (clean) scissors, they also can be a big help cutting herbs into salads or sauces, or cutting up ham for omelets. This is a good way to get kids started cutting, without worrying about their fingers getting in the way. 

Looking for more ideas for teaching knife skills? We loved this post (aimed at toddlers), this post (aimed at young children) and this post (perfect for older kids). And, if you’re looking for other ways to teach your kids kitchen skills, we’ve got lots of ideas here and here—plus great recipe and project ideas to get you started slicing and dicing together! If you have a tip (or a favorite tool) that we missed, we’d love to hear about it—share it here in the comments or on our Facebook Page!

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