We know that toddlers can act crazy, often operating at great speed in unpredictable ways. However, we also know that toddlers are capable of considered and controlled movements, they are capable of being accurate and precise. Toddlers can concentrate and they can determine risk.
My toddler loves to jump off steps and stairs. I can see him working out the risk... 'is this too high?' as he decides to jump off the second step rather than the third. Occasionally, he miscalculates and hits the ground a little too awkwardly or too hard, this is good feedback and will assist him in determining the risk next time.
I would, of course, step in if I thought he was at risk of harm. But exposure to some risk is necessary. At home we encourage controlled risk taking. All of the risks in Montessori environments are thought out and considered. Many Montessori toddler environments will use real cutlery, real drinking glasses, real plates and bowls. Montessori toddlers are taught to use real scissors and real knives. Safety precautions are taken. All tools are child-size, knives and scissors have rounded tips and children are given the skills they need to use them.
These risks may help improve the child's fine motor skills, confidence, problem-solving skills, and overall wellbeing. Toddlers who can determine risk to improve their practical life skills will later be preschoolers and primary age children who are very capable.
Exposing children to risk shows that we respect and trust the child. We respect them enough to invest the time and energy to observe them and to determine the level of risk that is most appropriate. Risk taking can also make children more aware of their body, it's movements and it's limits. Climbing trees will definitely help with body strength and cutting vegetables with a knife will help coordination.
With each of my children, I've become better at observing and allowing for risk. Otto has used a knife or crinkle cutter from around 18 months old and now can use a knife easily but I still cut most vegetables first, so they are less wide than the length of the blade and so they sit flat on the chopping board. Regular practice is important too, children don't learn these skills with a one-off activity.
If you aren't sure about using a knife with your toddler I recommend using a dull knife like a bread knife or spreader first and really soft food like a banana. Then as the child becomes more comfortable and competent we can move to a children's knife and harder foods. Start with banana, melon, strawberries then move to cucumber, zucchini, carrot, apple, then to very hard vegetables like potato, sweet potato, and pumpkin.
This is a controlled risk that can be enjoyed by many children. Otto is using his favourite Kuhn Rikon knife, you can see our top ten children's knives here.
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