Can four year olds use knives?

I'm in full book-research mode here at snackdinner HQ, which I'm using as an excuse to read all the things. I figure that any book is a parenting book if it makes you think about parenting. Don't believe me? Neil DeGrasse Tyson opens Astrophysics for People in a Hurry with "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you," which applies as well to quarks as it does to Tuesday's meltdown over who got to open the garage door.  

One book that will likely make it into my book is Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids, which features fourteen principles for letting your kids do things for themselves. Like many modern parenting books, this one features a run-down of kid safety hazards. Unlike many modern parenting books, this one has an alphabetized hazard list beginning with "Animals, being eaten by."

My favorite part of the book is a recipe for "Independence Cake," inspired by a sixth-grader who had been assigned to design and complete her own "free-range" activity. Here's the recipe:

Walking to the grocery store--alone. Shopping for the ingredients--alone. Walking home--alone. Etc., etc. When the cake is finally baking, it fills the air with something sweeter than devil's food. Can you smell it?


I'm not ready to send my son out for groceries, but I've taken Skenazy's book as a challenge to offer independence in areas that seem scary. He's poured his own cereal. He's packed his own lunch. He's washed and dried his own laundry. Last December he went outside--alone--to set up an Easter egg hunt, with Easter eggs he colored himself. That last part's not about independence, it's that his mama's tired of this year-long obsession with hard-boiled eggs. 

But I'll admit that I'm still thinking of my son's independence as something I grant to him, rather than something he takes for himself. Last night my son, perhaps still aggreieved from the garage door incident, was throwing toothpicks around the kitchen instead of using them to poke the giant piece of styrofoam I'd gifted him. I thought maybe his stabby energy could be put to better use, so I grabbed his little yellow kitchen knife and asked him to help me make dinner.

His favorite thing to cut is onions, which is great because he also likes to eat onions, as long as they're not too crunchy or too browned. Unfortunately, our mutant-sized Costco onions are no match for a 4" paring knife, so I had to prep my son's prep work, taking us down a few notches on the independence scale.

We dropped the onions into a pan and got working on the peppers, another tolerable vegetable as long as they come in all the colors. We were zinging along, me holding the peppers down while he chopped and giggled at the "zing" sound the knife made through the hollow veggies. 

Meanwhile, the onions were way past crunchy and perilously close to brown. I stepped away from the cutting board to stir...and kiddo grabbed a pepper and started chopping. When I leapt over to hold down the pepper for him, he told me that "I can do it because I'm a big kid" and then made four neat slices. 

Independence pepper.

Artist's rendering of an independence pepper because I'm just not comfortable having a knife-wielding preschooler near my phone.

Artist's rendering of an independence pepper because I'm just not comfortable having a knife-wielding preschooler near my phone.

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