We’re pretty big on table manners here. Well, the OH is, and I’d like to think we’ve taught N well. Although he does have a tendency to wander off from the table after eating. Thankfully only at home. He’d not dream of doing that with his Gran, or at friend’s houses. He’s always been good at using a knife and fork, and I’m a believer in getting children starting using cutlery from an early age, so they just pick it up quite naturally.

So how do you start getting babies and toddlers to use cutlery?

I was really pleased the way N picked it up, and although I didn’t really force anything with him, he was given every opportunity to use cutlery right from the word go with weaning.

Here’s my tips on how to help children learn to use cutlery.

Always give a spoon

We did baby led weaning.  There’s several posts I wrote about our journey through weaning, so feel free to explore if you want to know more.  He was ready to start just after 5 months old. But even before he was ready and looking for food, I used to sit him on the floor to play with spoons while I was cooking. Mostly wooden spoons, but normal baby spoons too. He’d quite happily put the spoon the right way into his mouth without me really telling him, so he must have been watching us at some point to know.

Baby led weaning on porridge - and avoiding fussy eaters

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Because we gave him normal food we started with sticks of cooked veg and bits of fruit.  For breakfast he tended to have porridge or maybe a bit of weetabix so I pre-loaded spoons for him.  

He wasn’t (and still isn’t) keen on getting his hands messy. That, plus being a hungry baby meant he was soon used to picking up the spoons and managing to work out which way up would avoid losing food off the spoon.

Provide multiple spoons

The next stage was scooping and that took a long time as he knew he could use his hands a lot quicker.  He always wanted two spoons. one for each hand, which I think helped him get used to using both hands and practising coordination.  By 12 months he was much better with a spoon, and by 13 months was eating his way through a whole plate of food scooping up his food.

Use spoons for playtimes

Although he was never really fussy about drawing or painting (he got bored of it quickly), N used to spend a lot time moving items using spoons and containers from one place. This really helped with controlling cutlery.  He liked scooping water beads* from one jug to a cup and back again.  They’re small like food, and using a spoon helped him being steady even, especially as they had a tendency to roll everywhere if he missed the container.

water beads play

Provide a fork

At a year old, I put a fork alongside his plate and he started using that as well.  It used to annoy me as he’d be trying to scoop with it, when as an adult you can see he’d get on better with a stabbing action. But he got there.  By 18 months he was happily preferring to use a fork, although the spoon was never far away.

Introduce a knife to playtimes as well as meals

Around 18 months old, N was given a knife.

He used to cut his playdoh a lot – no cookie cutters for us or making shapes.  He turned his nose up at those suggestions, and instead just wanted a knife so he could chop the playdoh up into smaller pieces.  He was a bit erratic to start with, preferring to use the knife upside down, but it didn’t take long to establish better knife skills as well as learning not to eat off the knife.

practising knife skills

Once he had a knife at mealtimes, he moved on from pushing food onto his fork with the spoon (if not his fingers). As long as toddlers learn not to put the knife in their mouth, it can’t be too early to start learning to use the final phase of cutlery.

Toddler knives are blunt though, so there’s a lot of help needed with cutting first on non soft items. We had a Kiddicutter, which would even cut through apples but still wouldn’t cut fingers. They’ve changed since back in the day when we used them, but they’re still great for developing toddlers and young children.

My view when asked, is give cutlery early on.  It doesn’t matter if they don’t use it, but it’s there as an option, and if they’re eating with adults or other children using cutlery, then they’ll pick it up fairly quickly.

How did your children get on with the transition to cutlery?

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