Learning about Learning

This evening’s meal was chosen by Little Person – pasta with cheese and tomato. She declared her intention to assist with the cooking, and proceeded to investigate the acoustic properties of nearby items using a pair of chopsticks. Since cooking pasta involves a pan of boiling water, I just enjoyed watching her explore for a few minutes. Then it was time for the cheese and tomato.

Little Person carried an open box of cherry tomatoes and an open packet of cheese across the kitchen without dropping either, and delighting in a “whoa! Who-oh-ah!” pretend near-drop at the end.

“You do the tomatoes I do the cheese” she announced.

“Are you sure you can grate the cheese?”


She’s watched me grate cheese many times, and has occasionally assisted by holding the block as I grated (or the grater). How hard could it be? She must have thought. She squidged and pushed and pulled, with me watching out the corner of my eye as I chopped cherry tomatoes into quarters. After some minutes, she carefully lifted the grater.


“Well done, those are very well grated. Very small.”

She looked again, and then, “You do it. I do the tomatoes!” and before I knew about it she had my super sharp vegetable knife in her hand.

If you’re going to teach a child to cook, these things will happen. Just as quickly, my hand was over hers on the handle, and I was holding the cherry tomato, with the blade headed right for my fingers.

“It’s a very sharp knife, so we have to be careful.” I redirected the blade, and incorporated her vigorous sawing motion (from countless attempts to cut bread using a very blunt knife) into my slice, “See?”

I could have snatched the knife away from her then, but this was a great opportunity for learning about how sharp knives cut. And safe too. And with each slice of the knife, I gave her more and more control of the pressure and angle of the knife, without ever removing my hand from hers.

And that’s the thing about learning. Sometimes you have to learn just by doing it on your own, like grating the cheese, and sometimes you have to learn with somebody holding their hand over yours so that you can learn what right feels like. A safety net that says “I won’t let you fail, let’s keep going.”

Even if she did nearly skin my finger. But it was my finger, not hers, and nearly doesn’t count.


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