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At what age should you let a child handle a kitchen knife to help with food prep? [moved from Home Cooking]]

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My niece came to visit last week. We don`t have kids. Her mom (my SIL) was with her. My SIL said `Janey can help with the chopping for dinner`. Janey is 11 years old. I felt a bit uncomfortable with this -- I know the damage a sharp knife can do and I don`t know her kitchen skills. So I did the meal myself. But Janey and my SIL were offended that I didn`t hand my 8 inch Chef`s knife over so that Janey could chop the mushrooms and green peppers for the pizza.
It got me to thinking: what age is appropriate for kids to begin to handle knives in the kitchen? When did you hand over a sharp (or dull -- gasp!) knife to a child to help with prep work?

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  1. I think that's going to depend on the maturity of the kid. I have an 11 (or twelve, I forget) year old niece whom I showed how to mince a shallot just last weekend, and I was not the slightest bit concerned for her, because we had already given her the full run-down on knife safety long before that. Honestly, you'd be surprised how many more grownups don't pay attention to knife technique. In my opinion, the sooner you get kids used to working with them, the better off you are.

    5 Replies
    1. re: gilintx

      Ditto and then some. No 2 kids are alike and there's no magic age for being responsible. I'd defer to the sister in law. It seems like a quick follow up question or two ("does she do this for you at home?" "is she comfortable with knives?") would have resolved the matter.

      1. re: ferret

        At the end of the day, though, I just wasn't comfortable with this, knowing my SIL and my niece (they often aka routinely exaggerate skills and skill sets)...thought I'd err on the side of safety. Of course, what they do in their home is their thing, but the last thing I'd want is an ER visit on my watch (and on my homeowners/medical insurance)...

        1. re: freia

          your kitchen, your judgement, your rules.

      2. re: gilintx

        Our son is now thirteen and we bought him is own "small" kitchen knife when he was around ten 'cause he was all of a sudden interested. He's now on to a larger style and I'm impressed with his interest and skill. All they need is a little lead and...

        D.

        1. re: gilintx

          Yup, depends on the child. We gave our daughter her own 6-inch chef's knife when she was six years old. It's only now that she's 9 that I don't stand over her every moment when she's using it. There have been lots of talks about knife safety and how to hold your hands properly when using a knife, so many reminders that she's sick of hearing it by now. Still, she's yet to cut herself once while using a knife. I, on the other hand, cut myself yesterday while slicing a roll to make a sandwich. Maybe I need to listen to my own talks.

          Btw, I cooked lunch with my child's class 2 years ago. A few of the 3rd graders were very comfortable and adept with chef's knives and most of the 1st and 2nd graders could use paring knives safely.

        2. Age has nothing to do with it; small motor skills do. Varies from kid to kid. (And even adult to adult.)

          6 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            But surely there's a limit? I mean, how do you assess these motor skills? My child can color between the lines, so let her have the knife, doesn't matter that she's 5? I'm sure there's gotta be an age before which you wouldn't consider this...

            1. re: freia

              Walker has amazing motor skills and I wasn't comfortable till he was what I think of as an older child. What really cinched it for my wife and I was how interested he was in the prep of what he was really enjoying eating. That was way earlier than we let him loose with a knife though.

              D.

              D.

              1. re: pikawicca

                And focus. At age 13 I was slicing a lemon as usual, and somehow let the knife slip on the lemon's skin and it punched into my middle finger on the hand steadying the lemon. Three hours in the ER to get to the point in line where I finally received my stitches.

                Don't know whether adults focus more or better than kids - I'd guess adults have better focus on average, but a moment's inattention can happen to anyone. I've heard bagel-slicing injuries are one of the most frequent reasons people go to hospital emergency rooms.

                Although my own kids (one is about the age of your niece) often help out in the kitchen - grating, measuring and adding ingred.s, mixing, minding whatever's on the stove - one has made zucchini bread and a few other things by herself), still I'm not yet comfortable with them slicing with sharp knives. I think it does depend on the child, but also on the parent's comfort zone.

                1. re: Julia_T

                  I suggest to parents who want their children to miss childhood, and become adults in warpspeed at age 11, to include knife skills: do what divers do - break the tip off the training knife, to at least reduce the risk of puncture and stab wounds and reduce the EMR bleed out admissions by half.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Well good, at least you aren't overreacting or anything.

                    Oh wait, you are.

              2. When my niece lived with me I started teaching her to help in the kitchen at 7. I bought a smaller, lighter, relatively cheap chef's-style knife for her because mine was too large and heavy for her.

                I'd have deferred to my SIL's assessment. In fact, in similar circumstances I'd have just asked the kid to help and I would have been surprised and dismayed if she couldn't chop mushrooms and green peppers without cutting herself. When I was 11 I could make my family's entire dinner unassisted.

                1 Reply
                1. re: ourswimmer

                  Maybe it because I lived on a farm but we started helping out in the kitchen around five peeling potatoes with a paring knife!!!!...by eight I was doing full dinners for my family...by my self. Now I have a 7 year old he has one of those plastic type chef knives that he uses. I wish he did more but my husband had a mother that never let him do anything and he is way more over protective than I am.

                2. If you are worried about her knife skills, maybe you could have her use a small pairing knife to cut something soft like mushrooms before you let her use the bigger knives. Not all kids are clueless around knives. When I was your niece's age, I had better knife skills than most adults. My mom has carpal tunnel and whenever anything needed to be chopped/diced/chiffoned, I was the one doing it.

                  1. SIL, surrounded by adults, volunteers her 11 year old daughter to perform the highest risk task of the evening? Was Janey an unplanned child? You control your kitchen. Period.

                    23 Replies
                    1. re: Veggo

                      Veggo,
                      I object to your comments about a child using a knife - clearly it is about training in using one properly. Yes, the OP has every right not to allow Janey to use the knife to help, but if her SIL let her know that she knew how to use one, then no problem.
                      I was using knives in my mom's kitchen by the time I was 7 - with teaching and supervision because I WANTED to learn to cook - it is my greatest childhood memory of sharing the kitchen with her. By the time I was 12 I was subscribing to Bon Appetit, and had my first catering company at the age of 14!
                      If children want to and are interested in helping in the kitchen - including using knives, and their parents deem them mature enough for whatever task is appropriate to their growing skill, it can add imesurably to their life-long appreciation of a varied diet, including eating more vegetables at an earlier age (gardening is a big help with this also), as well as creating wonderful family together time.

                      1. re: gingershelley

                        See, the thing is, I don't KNOW what Janey's skills really are. I only know what my SIL says they are. And SIL wasn't prepared to supervise, leaving me in the position of:
                        1. Assuming Janey's skills were good
                        2. Supervising every step of the prep and
                        3. Intervening and "teaching" if you will as required.
                        This wasn't a teaching moment. Nor was it my job to assess Janey's skills.
                        What was interesting is that I said that I had a TON of prep work to do quickly, so it would be most helpful if Janey could mix the veggies in a bowl, season them, and help my husband with the table setting, I was refused. It was "gimme the knife" or nothing. It was very odd, but I stand by my decision. I'm not taking the responsibility of assessing and supervising an 11 year old's knife skills while I'm trying to get dinner ready for guests. She can train up at her home, not mine.

                        1. re: freia

                          Too bad the two of you couldn't have found a way to work together. I think being the person who teaches another how to good is one of the great gifts and would be thrilled to do that for any of my nieces or nephews, even if it meant delaying the completion of dinner. I too have no children so look forward to passing on my cooking skills to anyone who is interested.

                          1. re: freia

                            I agree with your approach to this. You know your SIL and niece. We don't. But what's telling to me is her refusal to do anything but the knifework when you as hostess had asked for some other kind of help. This speaks to me of a less than teachable spirit and I would not be comfortable handing a knife over to a child like that.

                            And as a mother, I'd be seriously annoyed if my own child refused to help in the way the host requested.

                            1. re: Isolda

                              Agreed. Given all those circumstances, you made the right call. Sometimes kids who are poorly behaved around their parents can learn to behave well in certain circumstances, though. Maybe another chance will come up when you aren't in such a hurry, and you can give Janey a little CTJ. . . "I'd love to have you help me in the kitchen, but it's important that we be safe. If you ignore what I tell you, we have to stop. If you listen carefully, you can use the sharp knife." Kids tend to gravitate toward people who show enough self respect not to kowtow to them, and her desire to use the knife in the first place might indicate that she actually does want to help out and feel proud of herself.

                            2. re: freia

                              Were you on your way to some other activity?
                              Did you have other guests than Janey and her mom?

                              Sorry, but I'm not seeing how it is harmful to take five minutes, give her a paring knife, and watch her carefully to see if she really can handle it (you'll know in seconds).

                              I'm not saying this is you...but when I was teaching kids to cook, I saw an awful lot of parents who said "oh, my kid can't do..." -- when they could, but they were learning, so they couldn't do it as fast as mom or dad, who just took away the utensils and did it themselves, completely forgetting that THEY weren't fast at it when they first were learning, either.

                              Be patient -- kids will almost always surprise you with what they're capable of -- especially if you give them a little of your time and attention and encouragement.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Yup, actually we were having a number of people over. I personally wasn't in the head space to provide a teaching moment for Janey that her mom could/should do at her place.
                                See, the thing is, this is kind of a habit. Janey's mom treats Janey like a princess, and what Janey wants, Janey gets, and what Janey doesn't feel like doing, well she doesn't do it regardless of if SIL is there. Its really odd, but there is NO give and take. I recall being at SILs place for dinner and Janey was playing video games, and when it came time to set the table, yours truly was asked to set the table because Janey refused to help (she was busy). Given this odd family interaction, I really didn'tt want to take responsibility for Janey because I know she won't take direction, doesn't listen, SIL would conveniently disappear at the startto do something else, and if things went horribly south, yours truly would be in court. Seriuosly.

                                1. re: freia

                                  Well, after all this further info I certainly think Freia, you took the only reasonable course of action.
                                  When I was growing up, helping set the table, clearing, loading the dishwasher (which we didn't have until high school btw!), were PART of family responsibilities, and even more certain, if you were at someone else's house and offered or were asked to help get the meal on or off the table, you did it.
                                  That is called manners and good etiquette, as well as basic life skills in cooperation. I am sorry your niece isn't getting those lessons at home.

                                  1. re: freia

                                    well then this isnt about when a child is ready....but I am wondering why you dont think your brother is at fault too...

                                    1. re: LaLa

                                      LOL my brother wasn't there as its not my side of the family. And since I'm the one in the kitchen I get to handle the "pointy end" of the kitchen questions regardless of whose side of the family is in the kitchen at that time.

                                    2. re: freia

                                      Sorry....

                                      Should have read this before responding to your original question.
                                      Obviously, there are dynamics at play with your SIL and your niece that go far beyond the question of whether it's okay to give an 11 year old a knife to cut vegetables.

                                    3. re: sunshine842

                                      I agree wholeheartedly sunshine842.

                                    4. re: freia

                                      ok.....you didnt state any of that in your op....

                                      "chopping mushrooms and peppers for pizza" is not "a ton of prep work"
                                      You,your SIL and Janey were all that you mentioned...which sounds like a "hey aunt Freia is making pizza" can we help???

                                      if you dont like the tone of some the answers based on the original post...then make a better one next time....

                                      1. re: srsone

                                        Actually, I think the question was "what age do you let kids handle knives", not "please judge me on how I dealt with the situation" which is why I didn't bother to detail the whole event. The only question I asked was "at what age should kids handle knives", not "should Janey have received a teaching lesson in kinfe work, not "should I have given Janey a paring knife", and not "do you think I did the right thing". The question was simple...the answers do seem to be going a bit off track into the judgement arena., not something I was expecting nor was I expecting to have to justify my decision. Because a judgement on my decision wasn't part of the question.
                                        And ya, pizza on the bbq using fresh, home made dough for 12, blanched and peeled roma tomatoes done by hand, and with a side salad (not out of a bag), and glazed bbq'd fruit skewers with yogort dipping sauce is a ton of prep work.
                                        And no it wasn't a "hey could we help" it was "hey, Janey wants to chop the veggies give her the knife"...after all, when I said, well I have a ton of stuff to prep could you help season the veggies and set the table? I was refused....

                                        1. re: freia

                                          Welcome to the NAF Board. To paraphrase the Michael Caine line in "The Eagle Has Landed," - The time has come Mr. Devlin, when I longer control the thread, the thread controls me.

                                          1. re: scoopG

                                            LOLOL so true, as a new poster, I'm now learning the ins and outs so to speak...

                                          2. re: freia

                                            Okay -- none of that was in your OP -- so you can't blame us for forming an opinion based on partial information.

                                            You have a valid point...and (collectively) a lot more issues than whether or not Janey's old enough to use a knife.

                                            1. re: freia

                                              what age do you let kids handle knives? 11 is old enough.
                                              With a paring knife, I would go to 9.

                                              Since you ended up as the mean aunt anyway, you could have used that as a teaching moment by introducing her to the joys of cleaning up after one's self. No walking away.

                                              That would quash any desire to chop stuff... lol.

                                            2. re: srsone

                                              I think we've moved from children using kitchen knives into family dynamics where it sounds like the knives are out on a regular basis. Hope everyone enjoyed the pizza.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                The knives are certainly out on this thread LOLOL!
                                                Everyone did enjoy the pizza...I finally mastered the technique of putting fresh rolled pizza dough on a preheated bbq grill (no pan), then flipping it, then dressing it.. And if you get a smoke box going, it comes out like wood fired pizza...
                                                MMmmm now I'm hungry
                                                :)

                                                1. re: freia

                                                  A total side note. You might be interested in the book Cucina Simpatica, written in 1991, that is written by the couple who became world famous for their wood grilled pizza. Their recipes are wonderful.

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    OOH I'm going to find that! Thanks escondido!

                                                    1. re: freia

                                                      I just got a copy to give as a wedding present on Amazon. Don't skip the ultra rich pasta with four cheeses or the sweet sour sausage roasted with grapes.

                                      2. They make plastic knives that can cut through soft vegetables, and I'm sure a pretty young child could cut celery and mushrooms and... i don't know... gnocchi with one.

                                        As far as real, sharp knives go, I have no idea. I'm sure it depends on the child. I believe I've been using at least steak knives since about the age of 8 or 9, though I can't speak to whether that was a good idea aside from knowing that i never needed stitches from using one. My wife is worried that I'm going to try to teach my now-infant son to sharpen knives as soon as he can tie his shoes. I reassure her. But she doesn't buy it.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          It also depends on the knife. My brother in VT has 4 levels of whetstones: 3 from Arkansas Wachita and 1 from Italy, and the finest Damascus knives. He forewarns all comers to test his edges with caution, and they all and up in need of a Band-Aid.

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            This is a great point, it doesn't just depend on the child, it also depends on the knife. I have friends who easily would cut themselves if I gave them a sharp knife, and conversely, there's a good chance someone else might cut themselves on my friends' horribly dull ones. A person with a lot of knife experience will know to take it slow at first until they understand the tool; a person with less experience most often will not.

                                            1. re: Cachetes

                                              I've had more than a couple adults give themselves little nicks the first time they use my knives. I believe their experience is actually working against them - they've used kitchen knives for many years, but their knives are dull and they have no experience with truly sharp knives where you seriously have to respect the edge. They don't usually cut themselves while actively using the knife - it's always in wiping it or putting it down and bonking their knuckles into the edge while it's sitting there, or reaching for it. In other words - bad, sloppy habits caused by using dull knives.

                                              In some sense, I'm thinking a child with reasonably decent coordination and judgement (and who has guidance and supervision) will actually be in a better position to treat a sharp knife respectfully than a lot of the adults I know who have developed bad habits over the years.

                                        2. They'll hurt themselves at some point. Highly unlikely they'll do irreparable harm.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: jaykayen

                                            Yes, with today's electronics, there is never a need to count beyond nine.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Just don't let them chop with a dull knife if that is what you're worried about. I remember trying to peel a plum as a child, and the knife slipped because it was dull and I didn't have the skills. I didn't attempt to pare anything again until I stepped foot into a professional kitchen, probably 15 years later. But that accident could just as easily happen to anyone inexperienced in the kitchen.

                                              To the OP, I think 6-8 is a good age to introduce them if they're interested. And I would trust them from 10+ if they wanted to help out. My little cousins that age have very good motor skills when it comes to video games/Rock Band.

                                          2. Why not assume that Janey's mother knew what she was talking about? Why not just say "OK Janey, SIL you supervise." I can understand why they would be insulted that you rebuffed them.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: escondido123

                                              I did offer options to help me in the kitchen. They were refused. It was "knife"or nothing. It was odd, but not unexpected. And I stand by my decision. SIL has a history of visiting with niece, then kind of "leaving" her with me to get other things done. There was no way she was going to supervise, even if she said she would. It isn't my job to assess nor supervise Janey, and SIL certainly wasn't going to do that.

                                            2. My 3 year old uses a 4" paring knife to cut softer vegetables like Persian cucumbers (small circumference) and zucchini and fruits like figs, bananas and stone fruits. I do not let her cut carrots -- they are too hard and the knife slips when she tries. If the zukes are big, I cut them in half lengthwise so there is a flat surface to keep them from rolling around. In the summer, I cut the stone fruits in quarters, again to create a flat surface. That helps with stability, which is a big part of safety. We talk a lot about having nothing in the path of the knife except the thing you want to cut. The other important issue is height. My daughter stands on a stepstool at the counter, so she doesn't have to reach or lean as she is cutting. She regularly makes fruit salad for the family. It's wonderful!

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: jessinEC

                                                My son insisted on being allowed to use a sharp knife when he was 4. We supervised carefully and he survived with all extremities intact and no cuts. My daughter was never interested, so didn't start chopping things until middle school age (which could be 11).

                                                To the OP, I can see why your SIL and Janey were miffed - they were reaching out to you and letting you get to know your niece by cooking with her. Next time, let her cut the mushrooms while you do the peppers. Many hands make light work.

                                              2. It wouldn't have occurred to me to worry about an 11 year old helping in the kitchen. With younger kids though, what they're cutting makes as much difference as the knife. Another thing that makes a big difference is the teacher freaking out. Makes the kid nervous, and more likely to get hurt. I noticed this as a disparity between my parents. My mom would constantly warn me about getting my shoelaces stuck in elevators and suffocating while being held hostage. My dad is more the "get the chainsaw running before you try to cut the log. Otherwise it'll kick." type. It's amazing what kids can learn when you treat them like they're smart enough.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: jvanderh

                                                  Teaching by mistake extracts a heavy toll.

                                                    1. re: jvanderh

                                                      " It's amazing what kids can learn when you treat them like they're smart enough."

                                                      No truer words... :)

                                                    2. I think DH's daughter was 11 or 12 when I started trying to teach her some basic skills. She chipped a tooth and after having it repaired she wasn't allowed to eat whole apples so she grabbed a knife and the apple and was about to cut it on a plate before I went flying across the room at her.

                                                      I showed her which of my knives she is allowed to use and which are off limits. I showed her how to hold a knife and her hands properly, how to make the first slice to create a flat side so the apple doesn't roll, etc. I showed her how to wash it safely when she's done with it and where to put it away. Skills she's not going to learn in the passenger side of her mother's car as they go through the drive thru.

                                                      As soon as there is interest is the right time to teach kitchen safety and some basic skills.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: weezieduzzit

                                                        This thread has me tearing my hair out, how derelict parents are & how court- appointed custodians are. Been there. Edvard Munch, hola.

                                                      2. agree that it's a development thing and not an age thing. i would hand a knife to a careful and "trained" 7 year old before trusting a hyper and obviously add 12 year old kid off the street.

                                                        i wonder how much of the question is generational and social class. someone upthread stated they served their whole family complete meals at that age. my folks also thought it was important for me to be able to prepare and serve whole meals, which i remember doing when i was 12 for sure, especially baking the bread for the meal. of course we were working class and there was a stress on self-sufficiency and maybe they were thinking there was a possibility i would be married w kids at the age of 19 or 20 or whatever.

                                                        so i was chopping garden vegetables in my tween years-- i also was riding my bike without a helmet, and i never had a car seat as a baby. of course you don't see that so much nowadays-- people are much more safety and "danger" and liability conscious. my middle school had home ec rooms, so this would be 6th graders taking a cooking class, yes? sheesh i didn't *think* i was really that old, but i guess it happens ;-P

                                                        something to keep in mind is that a lot of kids enter college or "the real world" not knowing how to cook for themselves, at all. . . because nobody saw fit to ever teach them, or thought they were perpetually "too young." i would imagine it would be a very helpless feeling, to be old enough to enlist in the military and to vote, but not to have the basic skills to feed oneself. if a younger child shows interest in cooking, i think that is a great moment to start teaching them-- carefully, with good supervision, with band-aids in easy reach ;-P

                                                        to the op-- it's still your kitchen and your rules. regardless of anyone's musings on the thread or anything your relatives say, you should be comfortable.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          I think you've got a point -- though my parents rose to upper-middle-class, their parents struggled through the Depression, etc. My grandparents were always around, working in our and their gardens, taming the woods, cooking, so we were well acquainted with sledge hammers, axes, knives, an unreliable gas stove in my grandmother's cellar. My dad and his father were big fishermen, so there were always fish knives and hooks and other "dangerous" stuff around. I learned how to gut a fish when I was about 8-9. They thought this was a necessary life skill that I really haven't used since, but I suppose I could still manage something.

                                                          Of course, my dad also thought a fun snowy day activity was teaching his kids how to inject novacaine into an orange, to learn proper technique, and he sutured many of our childhood injuries in his bathroom, where the best lighting was.

                                                          It's surprising we made it to adulthood, actually. Some physical scars, but few emotional ones.

                                                        2. This question is more a rorshact test for the kind of person you are then it is a practical question. I personally wouldn't let my kids handle a knife because I wouldn't forgive myself if they hurt themselves. Let them wait until they're on their own. But that doesn't mean that this is the "right" answer, and I wouldn't judge people for doing otherwise. Maybe it's better to give kids the responsibility.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: MarkC

                                                            "Maybe it's better to give the kids the responsibility?

                                                            1. re: MarkC

                                                              Wait--you're saying you won't let them handle a knife till they graduate from high school?!

                                                              1. re: loraxc

                                                                because what does THAT create? High-school graduates who have no idea how to use a kitchen knife...which will bring heaps of criticism onto the parents for having let them reach adulthood without the ability to prepare a meal for themselves.

                                                                Much as we want to, we cannot wrap our children in cotton wool and preserve them perfectly.

                                                                We have to allow our children to fail from time to time, otherwise we end up with spoiled, helpless children being launched out into the world with no idea how to do anything, because Mom and Dad have done everything for them, lest they get hurt.

                                                                That's not saying we should send them all hang-gliding at 5...but we have to take the responsibility for teaching them how to make a life for themselves...safely and responsibly.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  I think Mark has a point. On the other hand, I think it is more reasonable to allow children to use knives BEFORE they leave the house. This will allows the youngsters to be under the guidance of the parents. To let children learn to use knives when they are on their own may be too much. The children will have to learn a bunch of things at that time. How to pay the utility bill, how to cook, how to live with a roomate...etc.

                                                                  Again, I think it is better to teach/guide the children about basic cutlery skill before they leave the house. If anything, we should teach the knife safety before they leave.

                                                            2. I was using knives on my own by the time I was 5 or 6 (supervised) and never had an accident. I actually remember my dad teaching me techniques for mincing and slicing and dicing etc.

                                                              Of course, I also cut the tip off of one of my finger with a pair of childproof scissors when I was 15. Twelve years later and I can still see the scar. I think maybe my motor skills peaked at the age of 6 and have been deteriorating ever since.

                                                              1. I'm giving my son a Global GS-58 when he's four.

                                                                Seriously, you can train a kid to do anything. I would venture to say that using a razor sharp knife is more safe than watching Disney channel all day.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: J.Dish

                                                                  My kid does both. And yes, I'd much prefer she be in the kitchen mincing shallots. Significantly less brain rot there.

                                                                  1. re: rockycat

                                                                    I *heart* you both, J.Dish & rockycat! My six and a half year old DD has been using kitchen knives for probably a year now, no problemo. I occasionally have to remind her about (and help her with) rolling items like carrots and apples, but for the most part, she's quite capable on her own.

                                                                    She really wants to learn how to use the oven and stove, but those will have to wait until she can lift filled pans on her own. I let her try it with a pot filled with tap water once - she couldn't get it up on the burner by herself. I asked her what might have happened if it had been boiling water instead. "Hmmmm...maybe I'm not ready yet." Of course, she's now "lifting weights" - filling the pot with increasing amounts of liquid to see how much she *can* lift by herself. :-) I give her another 12-15 months before she's cooking rice and veggies, and maybe two years for pasta...

                                                                    1. re: CBabb

                                                                      You might want to give her a chance to learn all about sauteing with an electric skillet. It's lightweight, stable and being able to turn the knob up and down really makes it a good way to see what happens to foods based upon temp underneath. I use it for making risotto so I can stand facing my husband or guests and I've come to enjoy it for such purposes--and they're really cheap!

                                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                                        I can vouch for electric skillets as training wheels - when I started cooking family meals at age 9-10, I primarily used an electric skillet, a crock pot, and the microwave. It was easier to reach the skillet set up on the kitchen table than it was to reach the stove top, and I (and my mom) knew I could just unplug the whole thing if things started getting out of control (never need to do that, fortunately).

                                                                        1. re: mpjmph

                                                                          I love the "unplug the whole thing if things started getting out of control." I think kids understand a dial that makes it hotter or cooler and the pan rarely gets too hot. Now if I only had a young child around I could sit and read the paper while s/he made the risotto.

                                                                2. I don't think there's any default age that can be relied upon, it really depends on the child. My 7 year old happily cuts up his own fruit and sandwiches, but I wouldn't be letting him do anything more complicated that that at this stage. Personally, I was preparing full meals for my family by the time I was 12 and I certainly hope my son can prepare a basic meal, alone, at that age. I can empathise with your situation as it wasn't your child and you were unable to be a judge of the childs skill level; no one wants to be 'responsible' for an injury to someone elses child. However I also feel that 11 is an age I would hope a child could be involved in some basic prep work in the kitchen and I don't think that chopping mushrooms and peppers would exceed my expectation.

                                                                  1. When my niece was small and wanted to help in the kitchen (4-5), I bought a kid's knife from Pampered Chef - it has a serrated edge, but NOT sharp -- it worked fine for carrots and chunks of apples and such -- it works more by the concept of a controlled break than really cutting. (she laughed herself silly when she offered to help me in the kitchen at 17 and I handed her that knife - she'd forgotten about it)

                                                                    Later she graduated to using a table knife to cut softer cheeses and green peppers...then a steak knife, then a paring knife.

                                                                    At 11, there's no reason to think she can't use *something* with an edge -- not sure I'd have handed over my 8-1/2" chef's knife, but I don't think I've have hesitated to give her a paring knife for mushrooms and peppers. Kids at that age are extremely sensitive to being treated like babies...and to her, I'm sure your refusal to give her even a smaller, duller knife was very much treating her like a baby.

                                                                    1. I haven't done this yet with my rather squirrely 7yo. However, my friends with kids tend to be the types who allow kids to try this sort of thing, and many of her friends have been using knives sicne the age of 5 or so. I know a 5yo who keeps a bowie knife on his belt. No kidding.

                                                                      1. Oh, but in general, I think 9 or 10 is perfectly well old enough to begin learning knife skills. In the OP's shoes, I would have allowed it but asked the parents to choose the knife and to supervise. I let other parents determine what their kids are capable of unless I think there is danger to MY kids or my property. Seems logical.

                                                                        1. i think the majority of posts in this thread are severely underestimating 10-11 year olds!! supervised, a 11 year old should be MORE than capable of using a knife. i would say a 8 year old could be learning with a dull knife on soft things and some basic skills.

                                                                          If not 11, when?? most states allow kids to start handling CARS at 15 (and a lot parents let their kids try driving far before that!)... but we wont trust them with a kitchen knife?

                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                          1. re: mattstolz

                                                                            I know I was using knives at 8 or 9. Not a chef's knife, but a paring knife. I started my kids with butter knives at 3 or 4, to cut bananas and to make peanut butter sandwiches, and moved on to cutting fruit and vegetables with a paring knife from there. But, there is a lot of difference between an 11 year old who uses a knife regularly, and an 11 year old in a strange kitchen with no knife skills. I say, your kitchen, your rules.

                                                                            1. re: mattstolz

                                                                              I agree. I understand the OP's hesitation, because it's a niece and not a daughter, but I am baffled by the hysterical responses. 11 year olds have good enough motor skills to play sports, sew, play video games, etc, etc, etc. I don't know any parents who wouldn't let their kid carve a pumpkin at that age, and, no matter what implement you use, that's much more dangerous than most of what you'd do in the kitchen. It seems much safer to me to teach them at home rather than have them turn 18, move out, and be hacking at a potato with a steak knife because they learned nothing as kids. Even if you would be more comfortable waiting until they're 13, or whatever, it seems like you have to allow room for individual differences in children, and not panic and call people careless, neglectful child-abusers because they do things a little sooner than you would. Teaching your child to feel comfortable in the kitchen seems like a real service. It doesn't just give the option to eat better and cheaper, it's a constructive hobby, and provides a skill that their friends and significant others will likely appreciate. I also think it's good for kids to feel useful- especially as they head into their teenaged years, they really crave the ability to do for themselves and a sense of ownership over their own lives.

                                                                              Edit: please imagine a raw potato

                                                                              1. re: jvanderh

                                                                                the video game thing is a good point. nowdays, most 11 year olds have far better hand-eye coordination than 25-30 year olds just from iphones, ipads (yes, i know plenty of 11 year olds with both), 3Ds's, Xbox, etc. if you feel weird about it and dont want to teach them yourself, get the food network video game and let them practice chopping with a Wii controller first

                                                                                1. re: mattstolz

                                                                                  Amazing that they have the ability now to 'virtually' learn knife skills! Technology!

                                                                                  One of the most important things for any smaller person (not just kids) is to have the proper angle to be able to cut safely. For anyone shorter than 5'4'', a kitchen counter puts them at a less than optimal height to be able to cut well - you are too far below the standard counter hieght!
                                                                                  Give a child a study step stool to stand on and it helps immeasurably; also for rolling out dough for pizza, folding batter in a bowl, etc. dexterity is helped alot by getting ABOVE the work surface.
                                                                                  I teach kid's cooking classes, and they sure do better when their torso is above the counter, than if their eyes are just above it!

                                                                                  1. re: gingershelley

                                                                                    Ooh, yes -- I used to teach kid's cooking, too -- and we had stainless workbenches that I coveted (and still covet, frankly) -- but they were waist-height on an adult, which made it unwieldy for the cheflings. Most of them ended up getting on a stool, which always worried me to death that they were going to go off the stool and hurt themselves.

                                                                                    (this school didn't let the kids use other than table knives)

                                                                            2. My Mum came from a poor family and by age 10 she and/or her brother and sister regularly made whole meals for the family. My brother and I have helped in the kitchen since a very early age and were certainly chopping things by age 7 or 8. I think it's a judgement call on the part of the parents. You have to decide how co-ordinated and careful your kids are! I know some kids who are so clumsy and silly (as in they mess around constantly) I don't think I would let them within a mile of the kitchen.

                                                                              One issue with your post that stands out for me is who the responsibility for the child was with. Was your SIL going to supervise, or was she expecting you to? I would not be that happy taking responsibilty for someone elses' kids in the kitchen. Even if they said they wouldn't blame me for any mishaps, what would happen if the child cut themself badly? Probably I would get a lot of grief no matter what the parents had said before hand about "she/he is great in the kitchen"/"any little mishap will help them learn"/"i'm keeping an eye from the next room".

                                                                              1. It depends entirely on the child. Since SIL was there to help supervise, I would have let Janey help with the understanding that SIL was responsible for supervising Janey with the knife.

                                                                                By age 10 I was cooking dinner for the family one night a week, on my own, unsupervised. I had decent knife skills in the sense that I was safe, but I wasn't churning out perfectly uniform cubes. The worst kitchen accident I had as a kid was accidentally knocking the top of my finger against the oven heating element when I was 12 - a loud noise startle me while I was pulling a dish out, and a jumped, hitting the element. In terms of knife accidents, I've only had a couple ever, and the first didn't happen until I was 18. Damn bagel.

                                                                                1. I would have asked if Janey was used to chopping and using a sharp knife, maybe ask what specifically she is used to chopping up. I'd make my decision to let her help based on those decisions.

                                                                                  I am all for kids getting familiar in the kitchen, but I also don't want anyone getting stitches on my watch. I think there's room for compromise, though.

                                                                                  1. Simple answer: If it was okay with the child's mom, I would be okay with it, especially for mushrooms. An alternative to an 8" chef's knife is a paring knife.

                                                                                    1. i was a "latchkey kid"...i was cooking my own meals by 11-12-13...
                                                                                      but i dont remember exactly when i started cutting with chefs knives...
                                                                                      and i remember helping my parents with meals long before that...

                                                                                      it depends on the child mostly.....and how well they have been taught...

                                                                                      but i would have asked "janey" to show me what she could do rather than outright saying no...

                                                                                      1. My sister has always worried about her daughter getting hurt by virtually anything so now at the age of 30 this woman still doesn't know how to use a kitchen knife. The only rule she knows is "Never cut towards yourself" so seeing her try to peel an apple with a knife can send you around the bend.

                                                                                        1. It depends on the kid and the culture. For example, this infant isn't even a year old and can use a knife because it's normal in his environment.

                                                                                          http://books.google.com/books?id=HSka...

                                                                                          1. My kids have been helping me in the kitchen since they could walk. I started them out at a young age with a butter knife or a plastic serrated knife, gradually moving them up to a paring knife. They are now 10 & 13 & can use both my 8 in chefs knife and santoku. I taught them how to hold the food, position their fingers, how to stand, etc.. They ask me what knife should they should use? I say go to the knife block & pick one that feels right in your hand. It's not like I handed my 4 year old a chefs knife and a head of cauliflower & said "have at it kid!", nor do I give them a large, sharp knife & leave the room. From the very beginning I showed them how to cut by holding my hands over theirs, eventually I would stand by their side & explain and now they can cut a variety of food without my hovering. It's great to have extra help in the kitchen and my kids are learning a valuable lesson that will last them a lifetime.
                                                                                            My kids are also allowed to use a steak knife at meal times to cut their food. If they need help, they ask. Knife skills are important, believe me nobody wants to be the adult who can't cut up their own meat at dinner.

                                                                                            1. This is about the kid and the kid's abilities. But it is also about the knife the child would be using and how comfortable they are with different knives. It's also about whose kitchen it is in. It's ridiculous that your SIL got offended; it's your kitchen, and you should only do what you are comfortable with. I'd be comfortable letting MY hypothetical 11-year old cut things, since I know he has the experience and patience. But someone else's? I can't trust that they do, nor do I trust their crazy parents to not freak out on MY ass when they see blood on their precious.

                                                                                              And all of this crap about letting kids participate in the kitchen is ridiculous. Give the kid a spoon to stir the sauce if they want to help, have them bake the cake, etc. They don't have to have the right to do everything just b/c their parent thinks they should.

                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                <Give the kid a spoon to stir the sauce if they want to help, have them bake the cake, etc>

                                                                                                Knowing my child, I'd rather put a sharp knife in her hand than have her stand over an open flame (gas burners in our house). Once again, it's all about knowing the child and his/her capabilities.

                                                                                                1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                  One of my earliest memories is standing on a stepstool in my grandmother's tiny kitchen with a dishtowel tied around my waist while I stirred a bubbling pot of grape jelly. She and her sisters (and their adult daughters) were never more than an armslength away from me.

                                                                                                  She taught me to use a knife at a tender age (I can't even remember how old I was) -- and I was able to cook simple meals (again, with supervision) by the time I was 9 or 10.

                                                                                                  Her allowing me to help (closely supervised) is part of what created a strong bond between us, and I still miss her desperately, more than 20 years after her death.

                                                                                                  A key part of this is if the child *wants* to be involved in the kitchen...I was, and still am, most at home in the kitchen...so she taught me in small steps, as I was able to handle each task.

                                                                                                  Teach your children to cook -- it's one of the best things you can teach them.

                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                    I agree sunshine,

                                                                                                    As a cooking teacher, I am amazed there is a whole generation of people, maybe even 2, who grew up on processed foods and either both parents working or a single parent household where no one cooked dinner - they grew up with no kitchen skills!
                                                                                                    Now, people - don't start yelling at me; I know there are lots of exceptions (they are posting on this board), but in my classes, I am amazed how many people share they have completely self- taught themselves since moving away from home and getting tired o spaghetti sauce.
                                                                                                    If you as a parent can share skills as valuable as knife skills and menu planning - and budgetting and shopping in-season - not just read a recipe, go buy everything in it, and follow it, but actually the thought process of WHY you are making what your making, etc. and the how; you have given children an invaluable life skill.
                                                                                                    Hopefully, they will grow up to share that pleasure of home-cooking with many other friends in thier lives, and be the richer for it, as will society.

                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                      I have my own dewy, golden moments of cooking with my mother and grandmother that I can trot out when needed, and we can soften the lights and push up the adjectives as I point out how I have baked with my son since he was young enough to sit on the counter next to the bowl and move the wooden spoon.

                                                                                                      But one thing I would NEVER have done was gotten pissy toward my grandmother when she told me she didn't want me to do something. Nor would I now interrupt my SIL's meal preparation and ask her to potentially slow down so that she could oversee my son. The OP asked about knife skills - I say tool, time, place, child are all factors in deciding this.

                                                                                                      1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                        and upthread, when it came out that there was considerably more going on than the OP originally stated, that the OP indeed had a point.

                                                                                                        (yes, I've done a shift in my opinion -- the first opinion was based upon the facts that were given...when other facts came to light, it changed the situation enormously)

                                                                                                  2. I agree with the others. My kiddo had good small motor skills from a young age, was not easily distracted, and could cautiously pay appropriate attention to what she was doing. I started out standing behind, showing how to tuck in the fingertips and using the knuckles to guide when she was quite young. We talked a lot about knife safety, and over the course quite a long time, she developed the ability to cut safely on her own using all of my extremely sharp knives (which IMO are safer than dull knives). I finally felt OK for independent knife use at about 7 or 8 years old, but with me in the kitchen at the time. At 9, almost 10, she doesn't even need to ask me to use any knives in the kitchen anymore... and she uses them all (small and large) without supervision. However, you can't just give them a knife and tell them to chop. Spending time instructing them is very important. At any age, one should supervise until they are confident. My 50 year old sister, who doesn't cook *at all*, still has no business at a chopping board with a large chef's knife.

                                                                                                    And now having read the whole thread, I would come back to say that the question is at what age would you let A child (not YOUR OWN child) wield a knife the in the kitchen... My answer to that is NEVER. If someone else's child is in my home, they don't touch knives at all. I don't think it's prudent to let children who do not live under your roof to engage in any activity that involves risk without thoroughly knowing their skill set. Unless they are your own, you're probably not going to know their capabilities.

                                                                                                    1. With supervision, as soon as you're sure their dexterity/co-ordination is good enough that they're not going to chop a finger off! An 11-yo shouldn't have any problems handling a smaller knife, so I probably wouldn't have offered a full chef's knife, but a 4 or 5-inch knife that's lighter and easier to handle.

                                                                                                      PS. Sounds like the family dynamics are plain WEIRD. And the kid could seriously use some time with a responsible, rational adult who doesn't let her pull that kind of stunt and get away with it.

                                                                                                      1. Now, if the child looks like "Chucky," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chucky_(... then never. Otherwise, I'd say eight years of age,but with adult supervision, and good instructions.

                                                                                                        Hunt

                                                                                                        1. I was cleaning and fileting fish at age 8 and cooking whole meals by 12, so I would have been fine cutting vegetables at 11, and so would my kids. But there is no magic age. It's the parent's role to teach at home, when other things and people are not competing for the pair's attention as they work together. It is not the aunt's obligation to teach when it wasn't her idea to teach. I think the OP handled the situation well. And it's sort of insincere of guests to offer to help and then refuse to help where most needed -- if the hostess wants you to set the table, do that. I have also found that some skills my kids do have, they need not display in someone else's home if the other person is not comfortable with that. My son was adept at tree climbing, and I didn't bat an eye, but he would not do it at someone else's house if it made them nervous or distracted. Good manners calls for us to not annoy our hosts.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: swimmom

                                                                                                            This. I could clean all the fish I caught by the time I was 10 years old and break down a deer by the time I was 12, so Im sure its fine to let a kid chop a vegetable long before that.

                                                                                                          2. It depends on the child. I was handing my children a table knife at age 3 to get them used to what it felt like to have a long handled knife in their hands. I gave them their own chopping board and let them work alongside me. They could cut a stick of butter, etc....anything that dull knife could cut I'd give them. Then...when I felt they had a good sense of what they were doing I'd move it up to a sharper knife. Your SIL could easily have taught her daughter how to use that knife. I certainly was using an 8 inch (and more) at that age. I had complete control, actually, of the kitchen at that age.

                                                                                                            1. Home EC or family and consumer science as it is usually known now generally starts at age 11 in the several states I have lived. I think a small paring knife for mushrooms and peppers would have been reasonable.

                                                                                                              20 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                Home Ec...

                                                                                                                Home Ec, or some watered down version of it, is, in most school districts I'm familiar with, is considered outdated and old fashioned.
                                                                                                                I'm certainly dating myself but for young girls, starting very early in junior high school, we were cooking in kitchens complete with stove, oven and every utensil imaginable. This was not considered an elective...we had to do it.
                                                                                                                Of course it was girls, not boys, who were learning to cook, sew and everything else we needed to learn to run a household. Boys had 'Shop'...girls had Home Ec.

                                                                                                                1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                  I didn't realize how weird it was at the time - but my VERY small-town middle school made the girls AND the boys take a semester each of art, music, home ec, AND shop!

                                                                                                                  Shop was things like re-wiring a light fixture, fixing a loose hinge, and how to use a hammer and screwdriver -- and shop was things like making eggs and macaroni and cheese. Basic survival skills all around.

                                                                                                                  Really, really practical -- and I had no idea how really, really rare.

                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                    Rare and oh so necessary and like you said...survival skills all around.

                                                                                                                    I loved those classes. It's one of the rare things that was taught to me that's actually stuck with me for life...
                                                                                                                    I may not remember the definition of a square root but I can certainly remember learning how to make a basic pie dough.

                                                                                                                    1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                      If you can cut a brunoise of carrots, you can do square roots. And you already remember pi. Math is delicious.

                                                                                                                  2. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                    All students both boys and girls take Family and Consumer Science (cooking, sewing etc.) and Technology Education (wood shop). They are part of the Unified Arts or Specials classes along with art and music. Students also take Physical Education.

                                                                                                                    1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                      where?

                                                                                                                      Not any school district that I'm familiar with in this day and age. Even the PE is minimal.

                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                        I work for a school district in Wyoming & our students are required to take Family & Consumer Sciences (cooking & sewing), Industrial Arts (wood shop, metal shop, & drafting) & P. E as 7th graders. 8th grade & above they can elect to take these course & our high school offers a wonderful culinary program where the students can earn college credits toward a culinary degree. They are also required to take P.E. & health classes throughout high school until the credits are acquired.

                                                                                                                        1. re: jcattles

                                                                                                                          It's got to be one of the last school districts in the country that still does any of that.

                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                            Our elementary kids take art, p.e., & music twice a week too! It's kinda nice living in a state with a small population :)

                                                                                                                            1. re: jcattles

                                                                                                                              Nah....

                                                                                                                              What you're describing doesn't come, even remotely close, to what I'm talking about.
                                                                                                                              There were no 'electives' with what we did. It was mandatory.
                                                                                                                              Everyday we went to gym and showered (altogether) directly afterward to make sure we were clean for our next class. The sweat we broke was inline with a full workout at the gym. They didn't mess around with us. It was like a basic military camp for children. Every Friday we took home our gym clothes, including shoes to be washed and brought back on Monday for the next week.
                                                                                                                              Daily, we had a Home Ec class. We worked hard in a kitchen learning to measure, dice, boil, bake and clean the kitchen until it shined again. We also learned to sew...by 12 I'd already made my first coat and it was lined. Eleven year old using a knife? Ha! We could have gone to work as butchers at that point.
                                                                                                                              This was all part of a curriculum that focused on prepared well-rounded individuals who needed to learn all-around basic learning skills. Reading, writing, arithmetic and boy/girl life skills. Public school. The school wasn't relying on the parent to teach....they were doing it.
                                                                                                                              There's nothing in the country, that I know of, that comes equip with showers and kitchens. Totally different and imo very very much missing.

                                                                                                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                Oh and BTW...

                                                                                                                                There weren't alot of overweight kids probably because of the embarrassment of showering in front of everyone and the nutrition we were taught and the nonexistent fast food joints.

                                                                                                                                1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                  I think there are probably a lot more factors than that in why more kids are overweight now than in decades past. Off the top of my head - increased amounts of processed foods; higher availability of convenient ready-made foods; low-fat, high sugar 'diet foods'; prevalence of soda, juice and generally sugary drinks as a major contributor to overall calories; a cultural trend where parents became convinced that allowing their children to play outside without direct supervision is dangerous; a trend away from walking even moderate to short distances (which itself has many factors).

                                                                                                                                  Anyway, I like the idea of teaching children basic skills of self-reliance. Self-reliance is important. But I don't think that mandatory home ec class would create a generation of great or even especially competent cooks. Home cooking just isn't valued in American culture by and large, And a class in school doesn't do much to change cultural values.Learning to cook just isn't that hard if you're motivated, and it's kind of futile if you're not motivated. Cultures that do value home cooking have a lot of great home cooks even without home ec class. Whereas, frankly, mandatory American home ec class of the 50s and 60s didn't create an amazing culture of home cooking.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                    < think there are probably a lot more factors than that in why more kids are overweight now than in decades past>

                                                                                                                                    American children have always fallen behind in physical fitness compared to children from other countries....Dwight Eisenhower in the '50's found statistics rather appalling, actually, when the children of this country were compared to European children. Federal government mandates were begun to try and rectify the problem....
                                                                                                                                    Physical inactivity is only one of many hundreds of reasons why it is still prevalent, actually epidemic.
                                                                                                                                    There is never going to be another era that I remember where children had to learn basics like I did....there'd be a major public outcry. Parents of these little malnourished, overweight boys/girls wouldn't like them being overworked in a gym or being seen in a shower by their peers.

                                                                                                                                2. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                  We had showers and kitchens in every district I have attended/worked. These classes are mandatory in middle school. All have been public schools.

                                                                                                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                            Both in MD and in PA. I have attended/worked for several districts. These classes have been coed since most of the 1990s.

                                                                                                                          3. re: melpy

                                                                                                                            When I was in middle school it was in the late '50's.
                                                                                                                            Every day I was in Home Ec with a complete kitchen learning basic cooking skills, sewing skills, cleaning skills.
                                                                                                                            My male friends were in Shop class learning basic wiring skills, woodworking skills and the same things their fathers were pulling off in their garages at home.
                                                                                                                            PE was a daily attendance (mandatory) complete with gym clothes (we all wore the same) and mandatory showers afterward.
                                                                                                                            My children in their late 20's had nothing remotely like this.

                                                                                                                            1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                              Mine was in the late 70s -- but they don't teach anything even remotely like it any more -- there or anywhere else I ever lived.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                Exactly.

                                                                                                                                I think during those 20 plus years between the time I was going to school and you were going to school they decided it was very sexist for a girl to be going to Home Ec and boys to be attending Shop. So, instead of teaching those classes anymore they just decided to discontinue them altogether.
                                                                                                                                Had they figured out a way to continue them somehow....we wouldn't be discussing "at what age should you let a child handle a kitchen knife to help prep w/ food?"
                                                                                                                                It would be built in to their school curriculum with a good, basic life skill classroom like the ones we attended and a child of 11 would be well on their way to becoming a master at knife handling.
                                                                                                                                Instead, the children of these last few decades are learning how to use their fingers to use a keyboard properly without the slightest idea how to use a kitchen knife unless they've been taught at home. I don't really know which is more damaging...the possibility of cut of a knife or the long term possibility of early arthritis from keyboards of a computer or iPhone.

                                                                                                                            2. re: melpy

                                                                                                                              I'd love to know where this is all taught....can you get specific?

                                                                                                                              Home Ec with kitchens where boys/girls can learn basic cooking skills opposed to learning these things out of a book or manual?
                                                                                                                              Physical Education where you actually work up a sweat and require a shower afterward?

                                                                                                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                                You are asking for specifics but haven't given us your location either. Central MD and South Central PA.

                                                                                                                                We used to sweat but showers are optional. We needed them but mostly didn't have time. We just were smelly.

                                                                                                                                We learned mostly to bake in home EC for cooking but also how to sew.

                                                                                                                                Tech Ed was strictly wood shop in MS. High school has more specialized classes like carpentry, engineering, drafting, automotive etc.

                                                                                                                        2. In regards to home ec, that was high school in my school district. Now it's phased out and no longer offered.

                                                                                                                          However, I feel by that by high school a child should have some experience from their home. Parents still need to teach their children how to cook and use knives. That should start around age 11 or 12.

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. re: dave_c

                                                                                                                            that's assuming that the parents know how to cook, know how to use a knife, aren't working 2 or 3 jobs to keep the ends together, and that there aren't any dividing issues at play....

                                                                                                                            Far too many families can't check everything off that list -- even in the "good" schools.

                                                                                                                          2. I grew up in my mom's kitchen. I could make simple things (grilled cheese, Kraft Mac and Cheese, etc) by myself at 5 or 6 years old. By 13 I had complete dinners ready when mom got home from work. There is nothing wrong with a child learning to cook, with proper interest, teaching, and skills.

                                                                                                                            1. I look after my nephew once a week, he absolutely loves helping in the kitchen, and gets very upset if I don't ask him to help. I usually start of the chopping, for example I'll cut cucumber in to long thin strips and let him dice them using a normal dinner knife, he also quarters mushrooms and cuts any other soft food that needs chopping....he's only 3! Obviously I'm next to him watching, but I figured he's using a knife to cut his own dinner so there isn't much difference. I imagine when he is 11 he'll be cooking the dinner for me.

                                                                                                                              1. I would have deferred to the SIL. My dad taught me how to clean a fish around seven or so. He gave me my first knife to run around in the woods with and take fishing when I was about 10.

                                                                                                                                And it's not like this was way back in the day. I'm 29 and we lived in New Jersey. I was just raised free-range and it worked out. Kids are too coddled now, I think.

                                                                                                                                1. I just saw this post, and it made me laugh. When daughter was 3 years old, I came home from work to find her at the kitchen table with my mom chopping carrots. I was shocked, because carrots are hard, etc. but my mother said she was doing fine and she was right there to watch and guide her. She said that's how she started me. Ha! I love to cook, and my daughter is a fantastic cook and so comfortable in the kitchen. I just it depends on the family, but we start early in mine.

                                                                                                                                  1. There's another issue. I won't let any of the 'little ones' in the family stand on a chair in their sock feet with a razor sharp knife (that's the way I keep my knives) help out at the kitchen counter. That's a recipe for disaster IMO. They need a work surface that suits their height just like the adults do. I have a small 'kids' table that is suitable. Adults don't usually sit at a table to do prep work and it's even worse for kids. We want the kids to develop a sense that they are doing a task successfully. So a suitable work surface is essential for the kids sense of accomplishment and for their safety when handling a knife.

                                                                                                                                    1. i didnt allow my son to even TOUCH a knife until he was 16

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                                                                                                                                      1. re: Albert1299

                                                                                                                                        how did he eat at the dinner table? did you feed him? Or just cut his food into little bite-sized pieces?

                                                                                                                                        How did that work out for his social life?

                                                                                                                                        How about scissors?
                                                                                                                                        Did you let him play video games?

                                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                          why do you insist on feeding the trolls?

                                                                                                                                      2. Myself, I'd have explained that I feel responsible for what happens in the kitchen, and I'd let the child have a go as I watch like a hawk. I'd probably explain in advance that I'm going to be a hovering PITA until it's clear to me how things are going. Plus I'd love to teach someone that age a thing or two. Hell, there are 5 year old piano virtuosos. An 11 year old can handle a knife.

                                                                                                                                        But give an unknown quantity a knife and let 'em loose? No way.

                                                                                                                                        1. I don't know what age is appropriate, but I do know that I was doing all the dinner cooking for the family, including chopping stuff, when I was five. That, I suspect, is too young. But eleven probably isn't.

                                                                                                                                          Oh! I should add - I had no supervision at five, either. My mother was sick in bed with bronchitis for half a year, so the best I got was her yelling instructions at me from her bedroom.

                                                                                                                                          1. I really don't recall at what age I was entrusted with a sharp kitchen knife. I do know my job of sectioning grapefruit with a serrated, curved grapefruit knife came first. But I was taught to knit at age 5, and was using a needle and thread at that age as well. Those are all sharp objects and perhaps more prone to injuring, as they were used in various rooms, with other children and without supervision. But I was not a reckless child so perhaps my mother knew I could be trusted. She was, in general, a worrywort. I suppose nowadays a mother who let her kindergartner knit and sew would be considered unfit, which is a shame. Girls, as a rule, are more responsible and cautious at that age than boys.

                                                                                                                                            It's unreasonable to expect that a child who cooks will never be injured. Whether it's a burn or a cut or a scrape, it's GOING to happen. Best you can do is to show them how to hold things, impress upon them that if they need to focus on the task at hand, and have a first-aid kit at the ready.

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                                                                                                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                              I was sewing at that age as well. It wasn't until I was eight that I bought fabric and a pattern and made my first article of clothing (pants) by myself from beginning to end. At ten I sewed my first quilt, also entirely by myself.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                To: "It's unreasonable to expect that a child who cooks will never be injured."

                                                                                                                                                Good point. At 50 I still occasionally get a burn or cut (albeit, more often than not, wine-assisted).

                                                                                                                                                One thing I did realize after several passes: People always say that you're most likely to cut yourself with a dull knife; in my experience, though, I am most likely to cut myself when I've got newly resharpened knives. Now I'm on special alert when they turn up ready to slice at twice their former efficiency.

                                                                                                                                                Another thing learned from experience.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                                                                                  <One thing I did realize after several passes: People always say that you're most likely to cut yourself with a dull knife; in my experience, though, I am most likely to cut myself when I've got newly resharpened knives>

                                                                                                                                                  You are correct. My experience as well. What happened was that I was so used to using my dull knives that I was using a lot of force to cut. When I got a nicely sharpened knife, I was still use the same force. This is actually dangerous.

                                                                                                                                                  It really all comes down to "control".

                                                                                                                                                  On average, a sharp knife gives you a bit more control than a dull knife. Thus a sharp knife is safer. However, giving a sharp knife to someone who has not use one can also be dangerous because he/she will have less control as well.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                                                                                    It's not that you're more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife, it's that the cut is likely not to heal as well. A sharp knife will produce a clean cut that will heal neatly. A dull knife is more likely to create a jagged cut that will not heal as well.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                                                                                      Happily, it's now pretty rare for me to cut or burn myself in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                      Sadly, when I do, it's usually a real humdinger that leaves a scar.

                                                                                                                                                  2. I let my 4 1/2 year old help chop. He uses a little 4" utility knife and only cuts soft-ish things, like mushrooms or asparagus. I wouldn't hesitate to let an 11 year old help out. If they cut themselves, it's just a learning experience.

                                                                                                                                                    1. I was cooking when I was too short to see over the edge of the stove. I had a sturdy little stool (loved that thing) and would stand on it to fry eggs, early in the morning before Mom got up. I made simple things - pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc, from a very young age, like 5 or so. And my mother has an anxiety problem, but it didn't stop her from letting me chop things. There must have been some warnings - but cooking food was all okay, no craziness. Let the kids cut veggies for goshsake. just teach them how to keep their fingers tucked in.

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                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Teague

                                                                                                                                                        *high-fives another member of the cooking-on-a-stool club*

                                                                                                                                                        One of my very earliest memories is standing on a stool in my grandmother's kitchen, stirring a huge pot of grape jelly with a dishtowel tied around my waist.

                                                                                                                                                      2. I was brought up by a mother who believed that girls had to be trained to become wives so had to start using a knife and a machete around the age of 5/6. I know that sounds really young but it was just the way things were in those days. I am glad she did because I now have a 5 year old myself and she's been cutting salad vegetables with a small kitchen knife. I agree, it all depends on the child. My girl has been interested in cooking for as long as I can remember and I always let her do things in the kitchen as long as she follows some rules. By the time I was eleven, I had to be able to cook a proper meal so I don't see a problem. I do have a problem with being trained to be a wife but not with teaching all kids the life skills they need to be able to cook for themselves. I think it's best to start early so they aren't afraid.