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Kitchens can be a dangerous place for kids (especially young kids). A homestead kitchen is often even more dangerous for the wee ones than a non-homestead kitchen.
Wood stoves are always being opened and little eyes repeatedly see mom or dad putting wood inside. What’s more, wood stoves get hot on every surface when a fire is going. Touching them or setting something down could be a disaster.
During the summer when homesteaders are eating outside, everyone tends to gather around the fire as meals are prepared.
And let’s mention knives for a minute. Most homesteads have a larger variety, and often more and bigger knives that one would find in a non-homestead kitchen. That’s because homesteaders are often also harvesters of their own meat, and carvers of their own tools.
With the addition of more knives, stoves that are hot for hours on end, and fires that are kept going, what additional steps must be done to help children stay a bit more safe?
Teach Them It’s Hot
Sounds a bit obvious, right? You would think that a wood stove and open fire sound more dangerous than a gas or electric range. This could be true, but don’t forget one thing. Wood stoves and open fires give off a lot of heat. The same heat you feel when you walk by these is the same heat a child will feel.
Holding a young child or babe near the hot area and teaching them it’s a “hot zone” will be easier than you think. With this type of controlled and repeated exposure, they learn very well how uncomfortable they get when they are close. It soon becomes more natural for a child to stay away from the hot zone, than one who is not exposed to these uncomfortable zones and is perfectly comfortable around a hot gas or electric range. Children who are comfortable around hot stoves are more likely to get hurt.
Get Them A Stool
If you have a child who just wants to see everything you’re doing all the time, it may be ineffective (and tiring) to continuously be asking him/her to “stand back.” If you find that you have one of these children who is constantly creeping back up into the danger zone, get them a stool.
When a child is sitting or standing on a stool, you have control. You can put that stool right where the child can see to ease their curiosity. This makes them happy. It also takes away their natural tendency to keep walking when they are standing on the floor–they will be much more likely to stay in place. That makes parents happy.
Draw The Line
Sometimes a child still isn’t as careful as they need to be around stoves and fires. This would be a good time to teach them where an imaginary line is that they would need to stand behind when performing certain tasks.
I have a child who wants to run up and look in the oven every time I open the door. I had to draw an imaginary line in the kitchen that he must stand behind whenever the door is open.
Another child is obsessed with putting wood in the fire box whenever daddy opens it. “I do it!” he yells. Daddy had to make an imaginary line for him to stand behind whenever he opens the box. “Stand back” just wasn’t specific enough, and over time he tried to get closer and closer. A line was the only solution.
Designate Helping Activities And Rules
There are just some activities that small children will not get to do. Saying “no” discourages interest and subsequent learning. So what are you to do?
The rules are different with each child and activity, but we’ve learned to designate helper activities and rules.
- When the Farmer is carving an elk, there are certain places to sit and certain items that absolutely must not be touched, while other items may be “handed to Daddy” when he comes over for them.
- When Mommy is making soap, again there are certain places to sit and certain items that absolutely must not be touched, while other items may be handed to Mommy when she comes over for them.
Helper aprons are often worn.
Assembly-line like assignments keep kids from running around and trying to do everything, which could get them hurt. Instead, each child has one task to conquer and is mostly stationary.
Involvement and observation encourages a feeling of inclusion, and subsequent learning. Learning builds safety.
Teach Them How To Properly Use Knives
There is nothing that eases my mommy-heart in the kitchen more than seeing that another child has learned to respect and appropriately use a knife.
I was the mommy who never wanted my child to use a knife. In my heart I knew that without practice, my children could eventually be dangerous when they needed to use one. I resolved to teach them one by one how to properly use a knife.
Each child will be ready to learn at a different age. Some of mine could learn at 6, while others I thought needed to wait until 8 or 9. You know your child best and no-one else will be able to tell you when they are ready.
Busywork Is Always An Option
If you have multiple children at once, or very young or energetic ones, it may be difficult to keep them all helping safely at the same time (especially while still trying to actually get something done).
I never feel guilty setting up some busy-work if I know I am going to be doing a long or potentially dangerous task (like soap making, or long canning sessions). In fact, there are certain “special” tasks that I only pull out when I really need to occupy a child (or two). This helps to keep these activities a novelty, and I know they will work every time.
Teach Them To Cook
The sooner a child learns to cook safely, the sooner s/he will be safe in the kitchen. When you begin to teach them will vary with each child’s abilities and maturity.
Not sure where to start? Get my Kids 1st Homestead Recipes delivered right to your computer for some ideas. These are the areas where I start my children. My hope is that you will realize you have more options than you think.
Although the fires, wood stoves, and multiple knives present in a homestead kitchen may appear frightening to the parent of small children, it needn’t be this way. With early intervention, proper education, and consistent training, children can be taught from an early age to stay safe.