It is always nice to find a pro-knife piece from an unlikely source, in this case the reliably-left National Public Radio. Granted many of these pieces (here and here) are in the context of food preparation and not in favor of putting a SAK back in every kids pocket, but bringing knives into an educational environment is a big step for the hoplophobes.
“Giving young children knives is a small component of Montessori education, Perry says, but it complements the central philosophy of fostering independence. “This drive to ‘do it myself’ — we’re squashing as a society,” says Perry.
From a health and nutrition standpoint, studies have shown that getting kids cooking makes them more open to eating healthful foods, such as fruits and vegetables. With picky eating peaking between the ages of 2 and 6 — and my son is no exception — I’ve been hoping that letting him interact with his food in a meaningful way may reduce struggles at the dinner table. Both the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association suggest that getting kids involved with grocery shopping and food prep can reduce picky eating.
There’s also an evolutionary argument for allowing children to learn how to cut their food themselves. A child’s world, David Lancy, an anthropologist at Utah State University in Logan and author of The Anthropology of Childhood, tells me, used to be filled with tools, such as hammers, rakes, mortars, pestles and machetes to break open foods like coconuts.”
Kids should be taught to use knives. It is critical to both fine-motor skill development, but even more importantly it helps kids develop a sense of responsibility. It seems amazing that we need a study to show that kids are more likely to eat a meal that they took part in creating, it should be common sense. I can tell you from my own parenting experience that the more you involve your children in the daily tasks of taking care of themselves and their needs, the better they behave overall. The sense of accomplishment that beams from a child is palpable, and needing to wipe up some stray peanut butter from the counter is a small price to pay.
“Here in the U.S, parents don’t seem to be denying kids access to knives entirely but rather delaying it. A perusal of cooking classes for kids online, for instance, shows that the earliest knives are allowed in the kitchen is around age 7.
Yet Lancy and others argue that delaying knife use until then hinders the child’s natural development and inhibits curiosity. It’s akin to delaying potty training until elementary school, says Elizabeth Norman, director of advancement at Brickton Montessori School in Chicago. “You’re creating a dependency that’s not needed,” Norman says. “Why would you do that to a child?”
Michelle Stern, author of The Whole Family Cookbook, says small children can wield other kitchen tools safely, too. Toddlers can use peelers to create ribbons of zucchini, though Stern notes that peelers are less safe than knives. Kids can also take on a hand-powered food chopper to dice onions. “I don’t think a child can feel more proud than when you hand them a grown-up instrument to use,” Stern says, adding that adults should make sure the kids always understand how to hold the food to be chopped.”
Of course many of us go a bit farther. I involve my kids in projects in my workshop, even letting my 4 year old son use the bandsaw with extremely close supervision. My daughter is about to get a Leatherman Leap, which will be hers to use and take care of. Unlike her bow and Red Ryder, this she will be allowed to keep in her room. I believe that I have taught her well and she is ready.
I will have the band-aids standing by, just in case.