February 7, 2014
Humans have been using knives for millennia. In some parts of the world, toddlers wield machetes. If you are anything like me, the idea of a tot with a butter knife can seem intimidating. No matter where you live or how, knife skills are a part of your daily routine – like it or not. From cooking to surgery, knives are a part of human existence.
Those of us who love the outdoors – hunters, fishers, sports enthusiasts, and even hikers – need knife skills for survival. So do home cooks. Children love to play “monkey see, monkey do.” As much as keeping them away from knives seems like the smart call, remember that they see you use knives every day, and will try it for themselves someday, with or without your help.
There are some basic knife safety guidelines that everyone should know and practice. You can use them as conversation starters with your little ones, and start teaching these essentials from the time your child can hold a pencil. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, it takes thousands of hours of practice to master a skill. The earlier you teach your children proper knife safety and technique, the sooner they will master these necessary skills. Who knows? Teaching your son to slice strawberries today may help him to excel as a cardiac surgeon years from now.
The first step to learning knife skills isn’t wielding a knife. It’s mastering fine motor skills, and learning about how blades work. Show your child a blender or food processor at work, and talk with them about how sharp things are used for a wide variety of purposes. What’s Cooking With Kids has some great ideas on how to introduce knives and teach cutting skills to very young children here.
Our friend and prepper, Julie Sczerbinski is just starting to teach her children about knife safety, she had this advice to offer:
My advice is to go at your own pace when teaching them about knives (and guns too!) Only you know what your child’s capabilities are. Don’t let others say your child should know something by a certain time. Every kid is different.
Is your child ready to start using a knife? There are plenty of blades, especially for the kitchen, that are designed for little ones. Find something that fits your child’s maturity level AND skills in order to keep them engaged, interested, and safe.
Culinary knife skills are a great stepping stone to outdoors knife use, and can be supervised more closely and carefully. Teach your child the basics of using different kitchen knives before heading outside.
Falling knives are almost impossible to catch correctly, so you or your child are more likely to be injured if you try to catch one. Instead, if you see a knife start to fall, step back and give it clearance. Knives can bounce if they hit the ground hard enough, so try to get at least 3 ft. away from a falling blade.
Never carry a knife pointing outward, upward, or towards yourself. Knife blades should always be carried point down to avoid injury. Running with a knife is NEVER safe.
Knives serve different functions. Choosing the right blade for a job reduces the likelihood of injury.
In the kitchen, always use a cutting board. If possible, have multiple cutting boards on hand for fish, chicken, meat, and vegetables. This helps reduce the spread of harmful bacteria. Cutting boards generally won’t let a knife slip (unlike countertops and plates), cutting injury risk. Outside, the ground is the ideal cutting surface in most cases.
Dull knives are to blame for the majority of accidental knife injuries. Check out this video to see if your blades are up to snuff: If not, sharpen them before use!
Simon Stuart runs the Survival and Preparedness Google+ community, his advice was to keep the tip dull.
Probably best to give them a knife with a blunted tip (they don’t need sharp tips for the kind of things they’ll be doing anyway) so they don’t stab themselves or others (most common accident involving children and knives).
When the time comes to give your child an outdoor knife, teach them how to care for it. Cleaning and sharpening a knife is a key part of knife safety. Dirty blades spread infections, can encourage rust, and may even damage folding or locking mechanisms.
Focus is important. If you or your child aren’t paying attention while using a knife, you are more likely to cut yourself. Keep your eyes on the project at hand, from dicing carrots to clearing brush, don’t get distracted.
Cutting towards yourself is asking for trouble. One small slip and you could seriously injure yourself. Set a good example, and make sure that your children know the importance of always cutting away from themselves.
Knives fall. It happens. Keep your feet safe by wearing closed-toed shoes while handling a knife.
Teach your children, and show them by example, that knives are meant to be used for specific purposes. Many people use knives as hammers, ice picks, or other tools. They aren’t designed for these purposes, and may break or bend, potentially injuring the user.
Most knives are not designed to be thrown. They can bounce back, hitting the person who throws them. Blades that are designed for throwing can also rebound off a bad throw. Don’t throw a blade that isn’t designed for throwing, and be careful with those that are made to be thrown. Children should not handle throwing knives, although you may introduce them to mature teenagers.
No matter how responsible your child is, do NOT leave them unsupervised with a knife. A teenager can be left to use a knife independently, but many younger children are too easily distracted or curious. Smaller pocket knives may be appropriate for 7-10 year olds, if they are mature, however.
One culinary skill that transfers well to the outdoors is how to hold and cut with a knife. Brace the object to be cut, keeping fingers out of reach. For smaller objects, like vegetables or twigs, curl the fingers of the bracing hand in a “c” shape that tucks the nails out of reach of the blade. For larger objects, brace further away from the blade to avoid an accidental injury.
We see it in the movies all the time. The hero, villain, or other main character checks the sharpness of a blade with their finger. NOT a good idea. Some blades are designed to not cut skin. Others will slice right through a finger with little applied pressure. Testing a blade with a body part is ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Keep knives out of reach of younger children – even if they are learning knife skills. This goes back to the never let children use knives unsupervised rule. Keep kitchen knives in a knife block, and outdoor knives in their respective sheaths. A knife drawer can lead to accidental injuries. Don’t use one.
Dry your knives thoroughly before storing to prevent rust. Keep knives blade down in butcher blocks, and keep sheaths fastened on outdoor knives to decrease the likelihood of an accidental injury.
Knives, when mishandled, can be very dangerous. Educate your children about the dangers of mishandled knives, and the need to be cautious when using a knife.
Danger is all around us. Your children need to know more than the potential hazards of using a knife – they need to learn why knives can be useful tools. Show them the many ways that knives are used, teach them about different blades, and learn about the history and materials of knife-making together.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping your knives sharp. Dull knives are deadly. To use a dull knife, you have to use extra force, so that if you DO slip, the injury can be grave. Even if you feel safer giving your child a dull knife, keep in mind that it isn’t safer. Your child is more likely to be injured with a dull knife. Do the smart thing – keep your blades sharp.