Adult supervision is required when learning and practicing knife skills.
What is the best type of knife to use when learning to cut?
- Using a serrated knife is recommended for people with vision loss as it is possible to determine the location of the cutting edge without relying on visual cues. By gently running the edge of the knife across another utensil, or along the edge of the cutting board, it is easy to tell which side is serrated as the bumps make a light sound and vibration.
- Note that not all serrated knives are created equal. A breadknife is a great tool for experienced adults but more challenging for learners as the blade can be dangerous.
- Fine motor skills are required for a child to use a real knife. If you are not comfortable, when cutting soft foods the safest alternative is to use a plastic picnic knife or a butter knife (both of which usually have lightly serrated blades). For learners with small hands, it would also work to use a toy knife, such as the type found in children’s tea sets/kitchen sets.
Tips for setting up the workspace
- Clear your workspace to minimize distractions and visual clutter. You will need the ingredients, a child-friendly knife, and a sturdy cutting board.
- If needed, stabilize the cutting board by placing it on a damp paper towel.
- Use a tray with edges to keep the materials/ingredients you will need on hand. This strategy helps to contain materials in one place so they can be located more easily. A cookie sheet or low-sided casserole dish can also work.
- Have your child stand at a comfortable height: The kitchen counter should be at your child’s waist. Use a sturdy non-skid stool if needed, or have child sit securely at the table.
What are the best ingredients to use for beginners?
- Start off with simple cutting projects: Use familiar, soft-textured ingredients to begin with: peeled bananas, cheeses, boiled eggs (peeled and halved), tofu, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, apples, etc. To build concept development, let children explore the items to be cut in their whole form before they begin to cut them.
- Playdough makes a perfect ingredient to practice knife skills. Children can have fun and build dexterity by creating imaginary foods and then practicing chopping them up.
How to position and operate the knife
- Use the dominant hand to operate the knife and the non-dominant hand to hold/stabilize the item to be cut. For example, if you are right handed, you would hold the knife in your right hand and use your left hand to hold the food securely on the cutting board.
- Teach the CLAW grip: Position the hands and fingers to resemble a claw, with the fingertips bent inwards towards the palm as though you are beginning to make a fist. Hold the ingredient firmly in the non-dominant hand with this claw grasp—fingertips curled inwards and thumb to the side. Gripping the knife securely with the dominant hand, use a downward, sawing or rocking motion to start chopping (depending on what is being cut). The CLAW grip is necessary when cutting hard foods and is foundational for all advanced cutting techniques.
- Teach the C grip: Position the fingers and thumb of the non-dominant hand into a C shape. Hold the ingredient securely between the thumb and index finger, letting the rest of the fingers support this position. Next use the dominant hand to operate the knife. Only use this grip when cutting soft foods.
- Consider cutting larger rounded fruits or vegetables in half before giving them to your child. This way, the flat surfaces can rest securely on the cutting board while they practice their knife skills. This strategy has the added bonus of occasionally increasing contrast between the food and the cutting board as fruits and veggies often have darker skins and lighter interiors.
- When not in use, knifes should be placed on the cutting board with the cutting edge (blade) facing away.
- Never try to catch a falling knife.
- Make it fun: Keep the conversation light and use descriptive language throughout; you can talk about the colors, shapes, and tastes of different ingredients.
- Plan this activity for a time when everyone is feeling relaxed, not when kids are hungry.
- Build real life functionality into the learning – have children use their skills when preparing snacks and meals for the family.