I love having my daughter work alongside me in the kitchen, and have included her as much as I could from an early age.
Over the years, I’ve introduced kitchen tools gradually to my daughter. I entrust her with child-friendly tools (but not necessarily made for children) that have been curated to enable and empower her to work better in the kitchen. By doing so, and scaffolding the skills needed, she has become confident in the kitchen.
Our Montessori Knife Progression from Baby to Preschooler
Here’s our knife progression journey from baby to preschooler age (current):
Baby to Young Toddler (11months to ~2years)
My daughter was gifted a Melissa and Doug wooden toy cooking set for her first birthday. We started pretend play with the cooking set, and my daughter would hit the toy chopping board with her wooden toy knife, emulating my pretend cutting motions.
As her grip on the toy knife strengthened and she could better coordinate her hand movements, I provided taste-safe play dough and ripe bananas for her to practise cutting, on top of Melissa and Doug separable wooden toy fruits.
As her interest in "cutting" grew, I introduced plastic birthday knives (that come with the birthday cakes). They had crinkled edges and were sharper than the blunt wooden knife, but does not pierce the skin. Soft bread strips, steamed tofu blocks and noodles were provided for cutting practice.
Older Toddler (2-3 years)
When her coordination grew better, I introduced a IKEA butter knife, part of the flatware set we already have in our home. The butter knife was effective for cutting some soft fruit and vegetables, like tomatoes, mushrooms and avocados, as well as cheeses.
When the butter knife proved too tedious to cut certain foods, requiring excessive sawing and butchering, I introduced the Joie crinkle cutter.
The crinkle cutter allows harder foods like potato, carrot, hard butter blocks and carrot strips to be cut.
Crinkle cutting is exceptionally useful when serving food items to babies at the baby-led weaning stage, because it improves the baby's grip on the food item and provides a different texture for babies to explore.
Preschooler (3 years+)
Interest in the crinkle cutter metal knife wore off, and I felt comfortable with introducing a sharper knife, preferably with a stainless steel blade. We invested in the Opinel Le Petit Chef 3-Piece Knife Set, recommended by Montessori in Real Life.
I like the thoughtful design - its stainless steel blade has a rounded tip and educational ring to help position the child's fingers, preventing the hand from slipping under the blade.
There's also a finger guard in the set to prevent cuts, though my daughter finds it cumbersome to use and cuts without it most of the time.
Here are some ways that I've found improves cutting ease and success:
- Slice foods cross sectionally before providing to the child. This ensures that the food rests stably on the flat surface of cutting board instead of sliding around.
- Scaffold skills for cutting - e.g. knowing where the tools are located, holding the knife by its handle not the blade, practising a firm grip on food, bilateral use of hands, before the actual task of cutting.
- Start slow for child to be familiar with the cutting activity cycle.
- Provide container to place cut items, so they don't clutter the cutting board and restrict cutting space for the child.
- Model cutting as often as possible with all kinds of foods. Slow and deliberate actions, conducted in silence, would be ideal for children to pay attention to where and how we position the hands, the cutting motion etc.
- Support child to get better at cutting at his/her own pace with encouragement, even if it means butchering vegetables at the start.
- Sustain cutting interest with varied foods.
- This is tricky but I typically don't correct my daughter in how she cuts unless it's dangerous. Children need to explore and experiment to be comfortable with how they use the knife to cut.
- Always guide children to place foods on the cutting board while cutting. My daughter has started to imitate how I cut certain fruits in the air, which is dangerous.
These are the questions I commonly receive from my Instagram community when I share videos of my daughter with her cutting tools.
Has your daughter cut herself before?
A few times, once with a cut that involved light bleeding.
Would I stop her from using the knife again? No. Everyone's perspective differs on this, and there's no right and wrong, so please do what your parenting instincts and gut tell you.
My perspective is that accidents happen even under the most supervised situations, because it could be an accidental slip of the hand. As a grownup, I still get cuts every now and then from my knives and peelers, and while it's unfortunate, it's normal. More practice with using the knife might in fact reduce the chance of mishaps.
Of course, prevention is better than cure. I model and teach my daughter safe ways of using the knife and I'm on her side to assist whenever she needs any help.
How do you manage cuts?
For light cuts, I would ensure the wound is cleaned and offer a bandaid on to keep it from infection while it heals. The tools we use generally won't result in severe cuts, but in the event the cut is a serious one, prompt/emergency medical attention would be sought.
Apart from the physical wound, I would also check in with my daughter's emotional state of mind, to empathise and acknowledge any feelings of fear or pain, and reassure her that she can take her time to be ready to try again only if she wishes.
So far, beyond the preliminary jolt of pain, my daughter hasn't had a big reaction and would sometimes get back to cutting after she had a bandaid on.
How do you deal with grandparents who don't think knives and young children are compatible?
It's normal and natural for grandparents who aren't acquainted with the Montessori way to be appalled at the thought of giving toddlers or preschoolers real knives.
I'm fortunate to raise my daughter in a foreign environment without intervention, but if my parents or in-laws were living with us, I'm sure this would definitely be something they have a strong opinion on.
If questioned, I would share with them the Montessori principle of exposing children to supervised risk as a way to grow, respect and trust the child, how practical life skills in the kitchen are crucial to development, and the safety precautions we've put in place. I would accept their feedback but gently remind them that as parents, we know our children best and would bring them up in the way we think works best for them and us. How We Montessori has a good article on Montessori toddler knives and exposure to risk.
When is the right age to introduce cutting tools?
I would recommend to look at the child’s developmental stage/skills vs age. Indicators would be the child's fine motor skills and the child's interest in what grownups do in the kitchen.
How do you know it’s time to move on to more advanced cutting tools?
The most powerful tool here is observation. Observe your child’s interest in cutting and cutting ability.
If your child has mastered the cutting activity cycle and use of existing cutting tools, it might be worth introducing a sharper, more functional knife to sustain the cutting interest and challenge himself/herself to cut a wider variety of foods.
Also, if the limitations of the tool are standing in the way of the child to complete the activity, it would be helpful (and less frustrating for the child) to invest in a more functional tool.
Child-made kitchen tools are expensive. Can my child use my existing kitchen tools?
Yes, so long as they meet the criteria of safety and functionality. My daughter used my butter knife for a long time before we eventually moved on to a crinkle cutter made for children's use.
Checking existing kitchen tools for:
Safety — Observe to see if the tool is too big to wield for the child (i.e. slips out of the hand, is too sharp etc). Personal judgement is needed to ascertain risk level.
Note you could also mitigate safety risks by providing child with mittens to wear, encouraging use of hand/finger guards or teaching proper cutting techniques.
Functionality — Most adult tools are designed to be functional but sometimes children could struggle to use them because of a lack of strength, coordination, control etc. Introduce existing kitchen tools that are basic, simple and don’t frustrate them. Again, discretion is needed to ascertain age-appropriateness.
Can you recommend other kitchen tools to build up practical life skills?
These are favourite activities of my daughter in the kitchen:
- Scissor noodles into shorter lengths (e.g. for pad thai)
- Using a pounder to mash up boiled potatoes for potato salad
- Using a fork to mash up eggs and avocados as a spread
- Beating eggs
- Pouring using funnel
- Using manual juice squeezer to make fresh beverages with oranges/grapefruits/lemons
The Kavanaugh Report has a helpful post on kitchen tools she has introduced her children.
Note: I'm not Montessori-trained, so above information stems from my extensive research and reading into the Montessori method. I welcome any feedback on accuracy and quality of my content. Thank you.
I hope you found this post on our Montessori knives progression journey from baby to preschooler useful. Let's raise confident little sous chefs in the kitchen!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.