Learning to Cut Food*
Age: 18 months + (or when you feel that your child is ready for this activity)
Purpose: This Practical Life lesson shows the child how to use a knife to prepare her own snack. It also helps develop fine motor skills. Using a knife is a life skill and is another step towards the child’s independence. Since she is using a real knife and cutting up real food, she is happy to be doing what she has seen adults do (of course!) and this is preparing her for real life (the whole purpose of Montessori’s Practical Life activities!).
- 1 Banana with a slit made on the top, near the stem (to make peeling easier)
- Cutting board
- Child-friendly knife. The one in the photo is a small butterknife designed for kids.
- Small bowl
- Small plate
What to do:
Before any food preparation activity, make sure everyone has washed their hands!
1. Sit down at the table with your child on your right (or on your left, if she’s a leftie). Have the materials ready on the table.
2. Give her the banana and show her how to peel the skin off, placing each peel into the bowl on the left. When she is done, ask her to put the banana onto the cutting board.
3. Next, talk to her about what you are going to show her. For example: “Today I am will teach you to cut with a knife. This is a knife. It is sharp and we use it to cut food. We need to be careful with the knife.” Of course, your child may not completely understand everything that you’ve said, but certain words (“knife,” “sharp,” “careful”) and the tone of your voice can convey your meaning.
4. Show her how you hold the banana gently (to avoid squishing it) on the cutting board with your left hand and the knife firmly and safely (hands around the handle and the tip pointed away) in your right hand (again, reverse hands if needed). I made two slits into the banana to divide it into thirds to make it easier for her to know where to cut. Cut into the first slit and put that third of the banana on the plate.
5. Guiding her, help her place the knife over the second slit and press down to make the cut. Show her how to put the knife safely down (flat on the surface, tip pointing away) and ask her to put the pieces of banana on the plate.
6. When she’s finished using the knife, have her put it onto the cutting board and put them aside.
7. Enjoy the snack!
We’re going to continue practicing cutting up a banana each morning for breakfast! And trust me, she needs the practice in changing the current stabby stabby motion to something less…scary!
- I chose to start with a banana because it’s soft and easy to cut and no juices inside. For younger infants, there are wooden fruit toys that can be “cut” through the adjoining velcro or start with a non-food item, like cutting play dough with a plastic knife.
- Later, try other soft foods such as pears, cucumbers, sandwiches…
- Children can also use an apple corer or other fun fruit cutting tools.
* In a Montessori classroom (or home!), real tools are used.
For example, in the class (or Montessori home) children use real glassware (cups and pitchers) in the home. There are a few reasons for this.
As you know, children want to do what everyone else (read: adults) are doing and using. And yes, they can start this young! When Freestyle began eating solid food at the table (6 months), we started allowing her to drink water from a small glass (you can also use glass baby food jars if you don’t have a small glass). Sure, she dropped a couple, but soon enough she mastered the skill of drinking from a glass and today she is able to pick up a glass off her little table, take a sip, and put it back. If the child is eating at a child-sized table, then the distance between the table and floor is less and there is less chance of it breaking.
By using the same glass cups that the rest of the family uses, the child feels respected and a sense of belonging. They also learn more quickly to be responsible because there are real consequences when using glass (oops!). Not only that, they will also learn that this consequence (glass breaking) has a further result on the family (one less glass). What they do, for better or worse, matters.
Finally, children at this age want to be challenged. Ever notice a child trying to pick up something heavier than you thought possible for them to lift? And the resulting smile of pride when they do? Montessori noted the child’s satisfaction in accomplishment: “I did it myself!” This is just another benefit of using actual tools (in this case, the knife) in Practical Life exercises.