Children learn by doing things on their own with supervision, and the same goes for cooking. Having your child help out in the kitchen is not only great bonding time, but it teaches them essential life skills they’ll use in the future. From mixing baking batter to seasoning chicken, children are the perfect helpers. But at what age can a child start using the stove?
Children over the age of 10 can begin to safely using the stove with parental supervision if they’ve been helping in the kitchen for some time. Children should be coordinated and able to follow directions before learning to cook with open flames.
Safety in the kitchen starts with supervising your child and becoming independent in cooking and life. If your child isn’t experienced or old enough to use kitchen appliances, there are several ways you can child-proof your cooking space.
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How to Teach Your Child to Use the Stove
The day your child learns to use the stove and be near an open flame can be terrifying. Only you know when it’s the right time to teach your child to use the stove. He or she should be well-coordinated and able to follow your careful instruction.
For us, each child also proved different. Our daughter was extra eager and also very good at following directions. She was able to start around age 8 with baking cookies and scrambling eggs. However, our oldest wasn’t interested until his teen years but by then, he quickly graduated to fancy omelettes and homemade pies.
Our youngest children, the twin boys, were late bloomers but around 13, ready to learn how to bake frozen pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches.
If you’re still wary about handing the reins over, then you’re probably not ready. Don’t start until you’re confident your child will do well. When you are ready, use these tips below to ease your child into using the stove and making them the ultimate mini chefs.
Stay by Your Child’s Side
Cooking with open flames isn’t something you just let your kid-free to do on his or her own. While it means cooking will likely take longer than usual, teaching your child the proper skills for cooking on the stove will pay off in the long run.
Set Rules for Using the Stove
Before you begin making any stovetop cooking or oven baking, set ground rules with your child. Ensure your child knows not to use the stove unattended, which burners he or she can use, etc. Here are a few example rules to set:
- Don’t use the stove without Mom or Dad’s permission and supervision.
- Only use the back burners.
- Stand back while turning on the stove (especially if it’s gas).
Add or change any rules you see fit for your child. Keep them reasonable and appropriate for your child’s age and development. Remember: don’t establish too many rules, as your child will either forget them or try to break strict rules.
Pull up Hair and Don’t Wear Loose Clothing
Pull back long hair, take off jewelry, and change out of loose-fitting clothing. Make sure anything that you or your child is wearing won’t snag or catch fire if it’s too close to the hot stove. Roll up long sleeves to avoid a big mess as well.
If you really want to motivate and excite your child, you can purchase his or her very own apron set complete with child-size chef’s hat! Amazon has many available here.
Start with Easy Recipes
When you start teaching your child to cook on the stove, you’re not going to start with complicated and fancy recipes. Begin with simple dishes that don’t splash hot ingredients and are easy to watch. Some easy foods to cook with your child when you begin are:
- Scrambled eggs
- Grilled cheese
- And cookies
Pick a recipe and stick with it. Here’s a popular kid-friendly cookbook, from Food Network Magazine, easily found on Amazon. Go over the recipe beforehand and walk them through it a few times prior to cooking.
Once you begin, stay by his or her side the entire time. When you feel like your kid is fully able to do it on his or her own without issue, then you can begin doing other things in the kitchen nearby – while keeping a side-eye on your child!
Avoid Hot Liquids, Fats, and Oils
Don’t let your kid handle anything that could splash out of the pan and burn him or her. Boiling water from pasta can bubble over if not supervised. Fat from bacon, ground meat, and other foods can pop out. Cooking with a lot of oil is extremely dangerous – even for adults.
Children should begin cooking these types of foods until they’re well into their teens. There are numerous things your young child can do in the kitchen that doesn’t involve hot, splashing ingredients.
Don’t Leave Food Unattended or Utensils Resting in Pans
Always use potholders or oven mitts to handle hot pans and plates. Teach your child the importance of never touching a hot pan. Don’t leave food cooking on the stove unattended, and never leave cooking utensils in a pan on the stove. While you’re cooking, keep handles angled in, not poking out over the edge of the stove.
Amazon also offers several fun potholders and utensils that could be set aside just for use during his or her cooking ‘lessons’. Your child would love this unicorn potholder set. If you feel like really splurging, this Tovla Jr. Kids Cooking and Baking Gift Set with Storage Case (Complete Cooking Supplies for the Junior Chef) would certainly be worthwhile!
Remember to Turn Off the Stove!
Turning off the stove doesn’t seem like something you need to keep in mind. But remember, your child is just learning and needs to know every detailed direction of how to use the stove. Please make a point to turn off the stove immediately upon finishing cooking and point it out to your child every time.
Even Before Stoves, What About Knives?
Just as you should wait to let your child use the stove, you should also wait to let your child handle sharp knives. If your kid is experienced enough, he or she can begin using child-safe knives to cut vegetables around the age of eight. If you feel like your child is still too distracted or untrustworthy with sharp objects, don’t give them the responsibility just yet.
As with stovetop cooking, never leave your child’s side when he or she is handling a knife, even if it is designed for children. Set rules and walk your child through the process before handing over a knife. Teach him or her the proper grip for using a knife and use a large cutting board, so there’s plenty of space.
At What Age Can a Child Use Knives?
Using knives is a practical skill that children should begin learning at a young age and can lead to utilizing appliances like stoves. However, the learning process should start with dull butter knives and graduate on to serrated knives under close supervision (Source: NPR).
Many parents start introducing kitchen knife skills as early as six or seven years old. If parents feel ready, they can begin giving their children a child-safe knife at around 18 months. As with any new skill to learn, the exact age and timing to teach your kid knife skills are up to you and your confidence in your child.
How to Teach Your Child to Use a Knife
When you first begin giving your child more independence in the kitchen with knives, go over a few basic rules. Make sure you have a stable, smooth surface. Begin by showing your child how to hold a knife and demonstrate several hold positions so he or she can decide what’s most comfortable.
Start with soft foods like bananas or cucumbers before graduating on to tough-to-cut ingredients. Demonstrate the back-and-forth sawing motion that will help give enough pressure to cut through foods.
If your children don’t want help, let them try it independently as long as they’re safe. Keep a close eye at all times. If your children get tired of cutting, give them another cooking task (such as mixing or setting the table) while you finish the job.
Like with ovens, stoves, and other appliances, the first day you let your child handle a knife is frightening. But it’s one of many scary firsts that you have to go through for your child to grow and learn. However, there are ways to stay safe while introducing kitchen knife skills to your child. The American Knife & Tool Institute (AKTI) provides critical points to knife safety:
Knives Are Not Toys
The first lesson in knife safety is that knives are tools and not toys (Source: AKTI). They are extremely dangerous when not handled correctly or if they get into the wrong hands. Consider teaching your child this fundamental rule long before ever handing him or her a knife.
Instill the four main key knife safety points with your child before handing over the sharp object – SASS (Source: AKTI):
- Stop: make sure no one is in arm’s reach
- Away: cut away from fingers and other body parts
- Sharp: sharp knives are the safest
- Store: keep knives stored in a block or sheath
Cooking with Your Kid in the Kitchen at Different Ages
Kids love helping to cook, and everyone can agree that food is more delicious when you make it yourself. Use this opportunity to get your kid in the kitchen and learning essential life skills they’ll need in the future.
If you start teaching your child as young as two or three years old how to help out in the kitchen, chances are they’ll be ready to move on to big appliances around 10 or 12 years old. Suppose your child doesn’t begin learning to cook until he or she is 10. In that case, you may have to wait longer before giving them more responsibility in the kitchen.
Cooking with Two-Year-Olds
Kids of all ages love helping mom or dad cook up delicious recipes. They want to help in any way possible, especially when they’re young and daily chores are exciting. At two years old, children are beginning to say short sentences and can identify pictures or things when they’re named (Source: CDC). They also start following simple instructions.
When they want to and are ready to help in the kitchen, keep in mind that kids around age two should not be handling knives or other dangerous utensils. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), two-year-olds can perform the following tasks:
- Wipe the table
- Wash produce
- Tear apart greens
- Break cauliflower and broccoli into pieces
- Move ingredients, take them out of bags, etc.
Starting with simple tasks gets your kid excited about cooking and curious about the ingredients you’re using. Allowing them to interact with new foods daily gives them the chance to become more open to eating new foods.
Cooking And Three-Year-Olds
Three-year-olds are just beginning to understand simple step-by-step instructions and develop simple cognitive processes (Source: CDC). If you think your child is ready to take on more responsibility in the kitchen, gradually add new tasks and walk them through processes in a few simple steps.
At this age, kids are still too young to handle sharp objects or hot stovetops. If your three-year-old is eager to get cooking, here’s what they can do instead (Source: NIH):
- Knead dough
- Pour and mix ingredients, including shaking closed containers
- Apply soft spreads, including butter and frosting
- Throw out trash
Cooking with Four-Year-Olds
As young children develop their emotional, motor, and cognitive skills, you can continue adding responsibilities when cooking. At this age, kids can understand specific rules and do a few simple tasks on their own. The CDC also recommends that they can start using kid-safe scissors – with supervision. Here’s an example of kid-safe scissors on Amazon.
If your child has been helping you in the kitchen for a year or two, you can start giving them more significant responsibilities. Here’s what the NIH recommends four-year-olds can do in the kitchen:
- Peel oranges, hard-boiled eggs, etc.
- Mash bananas, beans, etc. with a fork
- Cut parsley, green onions, etc. with kid-safe scissors
- Set the table
Cooking with Five- to Six-Year-Olds
At five and six years, kids are exiting the toddler ages and entering the second half of their childhood. At this point in their young lives, they can understand and follow more complex rules and are more independent (Source: CDC).
You can now let your child be a little more autonomous with simple tasks in the kitchen and give them more supervised responsibilities. According to the NIH, five- and six-year-olds can:
- Measure ingredients
- Use an eggbeater
Cooking with Seven- to Nine-Year-Olds
At this age in late childhood, kids have developed strong motor skills and can start using sharp utensils while Mom or Dad are watching. Here’s what your kid can do under supervision (Source: Kids Cook Monday):
- Dice/mince vegetables
- Grate ingredients
- Peel vegetables
- Slice avocados
- Use a can opener
- Cut pizza
Supervise your child and watch as he or she develops the skills necessary to produce a good meal. Use this only as a guide; only you know when your child is ready to move on to handling knives, stoves, and other appliances.
Cooking with 10-Year-Olds and Up Around Stoves
At this point, your child has officially reached adolescence and developed a lot of cognitive and motor skills needed to handle appliances. They are very independent and able to follow directions. They can do most of the kitchen tasks listed above without close adult supervision (Source: Kids Cook Monday).
As you observe your child’s skills in the kitchen and watch them develop, you can decide when to hand over the big chef’s knife or let him or her turn on the stove. However, never leave your child unattended with these significant responsibilities.
Safety Tips to Kid-Proof Your Kitchen
Even though your child might be helping out in the kitchen, it’s important to make sure the space is as safe as possible for tiny, exploring hands. Kids are inherently curious and will get into anything they can if they’re not supervised (and sometimes it happens when you’re standing right there!).
If you’re not in the kitchen and your child isn’t helping to cook, make it clear that the room is off-limits. Unfortunately, kids don’t always follow the rules. Use these general kitchen safety tips from Healthy Children to ensure your kitchen is as safe as can be:
- Store dangerous cleaning products in a high cabinet and lock it.
- Keep sharp utensils (knives, forks, etc.) in a latched drawer separate from “safe” utensils.
- Keep dangerous kitchen appliances out of reach or stored in a high cupboard.
- Unplug appliances when you’re not using them and keep cords out of reach.
- Keep matches out of sight.
- Don’t use small refrigerator magnets that could pose a choking hazard.
- Keep spices out of reach.
- Keep your trash can in a latched cupboard or behind a closed door.
- Keep foil, wax paper, and other dispensers out of reach.
- Take knives out of the dishwasher as soon as the cycle is complete.
Child-Proofing Your Stove
Child-proofing your kitchen goes beyond keeping toxic or dangerous items out of reach. Make sure your appliances are safe from young children’s curious minds as well.
A stove combined with a young child is a recipe for disaster. Just like waiting until your child is old enough to learn how to use it, taking extra precautions will make sure you and your entire family are safe. Here’s how to child-proof your stove:
- Use the back burners.
- Keep flammable items (towels, potholders, etc.) away from the stove.
- Use child-resistant knob covers or remove them entirely (especially if you have a gas stove).
- Turn the stove and oven off when you’re not using them.
- Check if your child is nearby before opening the oven.
Children around the age of 11 years old are ready to use the stove with close adult supervision. However, it is ultimately up to you to decide if your child can use the stove or if he or she needs to work more on basic kitchen tasks before moving on.
Whenever you decide the time is right, teaching your kids these life skills while helping them along the way will provide invaluable life lessons.