Why I Let My 5 Year Old Use a Sharp Knife

Photography: Fran Jorgensen | www.franjorgensen.com

By Jessica Braidwood 

My five year old loves to help. REALLY help. Not in the ‘here’s a bowl for you to pour some flour into’ kind of way. She wants to be a part of the real work we do. We run a business and when she comes to the shop with us she sweeps and mops the floors, she washes walls and cleans dishes. These are the things she can do there that truly contribute and those are the things she wants to do most. The watered-down ‘pretend’ version just doesn’t cut it. Of course, she is still only five and she also wants to play and this is always fine. Play and work are synonymous for children.

Our kids are much more capable than we give them credit for. We spend much of their young childhood’s trying to ensure their safety, and it is often to their detriment.

We are overprotective. We coax them to ‘watch out’ and eventually they start second guessing themselves.

Does this mean I think we should let them run free (and into traffic), of course not, but our endless cries of ‘be careful’ and ‘let me help you with that’ do them a great disservice.


Our five year old:
– uses real scissors
– cooks at the stove
– lights candles
– cuts with a sharp knife

She wants to cook real food. She wants to vacuum with the real vacuum cleaner. She wants to hammer real nails. The toy versions of tools have never been good enough in our house.

So instead we gave her a real tool set when she turned three. We play with real doctor’s instruments when we play doctor. She cooks real food with our kitchen equipment. I still get a bit queasy when I hand over a kitchen knife to let her slice things but I do it, because she wants to learn and she IS careful.

Real Tools. Real Work. And of course, Real Play. This is how our kids feel most fulfilled.

When she was little we helped her a lot on the playground. We helped too much really. She was not an adventurous climber at that age. She would do it but only with our help. It wasn’t until she was well past three that she started adventuring more on her own and not wanting our help. In hindsight we would have and should have helped less. She lost sight of her own abilities for awhile and needed to learn to trust herself again because of our interference. This doesn’t mean we never help our 17 month old, it just means we’ve stepped back. We wait much longer before offering assistance. And really he rarely looks to us for that help. He will try something and if he cannot do it, he moves on. And he tries it again at a future time.

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