Children and Chopsticks
Lots of kids have the opportunity to travel at least as far as their local Chinese takeaway, and although we all know you can fall back on hand-feeding or forks, why would you pass up the opportunity to immerse the youngsters in a new culture, enhance their fine motor skills, and – let’s be honest – mess with their heads a little by explaining how hungry they’ll be if they can’t feed themselves in a land without cutlery?
But even if you’re the kind of parent who sticks to the version of Red Riding Hood where Granny gets locked in a cupboard rather than being swallowed whole – the type who would request both forks and spoons without first implying imminent starvation – the force of a toddler who wants to eat in the same way as everybody else is not to be reckoned with.
What have we learnt about travel and chopsticks?
Lots of things. Some things, anyway. Here they are.
I’ve noticed that many parents of chopstick-using children pack a pair of kitchen shears to snip the food (including long noodles) into toddler-sized bites at the start of the meal. (Disclaimer: etiquette may vary – place warnings in comments.)
I’ve also noticed that many travellers consider it essential to carry a swiss army knife or similar, and a bottle of alcohol-based sanitiser. It seems like that part should work out nicely, then, for those travelling with kids to chopstick-using places – at least if their implement is scissored. Otherwise it might be back to the old mamma-bird technique of biting off whatever’s too big to chew. The second accessory I’ll name is a good bib, preferably a very wipeable one with a little catch-all pocket at the front.
DIY Learning Chopsticks – any time, anywhere
You can come prepared with any number of pretty and child/beginner-friendly chopstick designs, but one of the most effective tricks we’ve found involves a couple of cleanish hair ties or rubber bands, and a wadded-up piece of paper.
Basically, you create a little hinge between the two sticks at about the right point (it will vary according to age and skill – you’ll have to experiment a bit) then tell your child that she can have as many highly-desirable-foodstuffs-of-choice as she can get into her mouth using the chopsticks alone.
Buying Your Own Learning Chopsticks – features to look for
If you must buy something more stylish-looking than a couple of rubber bands and a wadded-up piece of paper, perhaps to offset the fact you just went your children’s meals with a hastily-disinfected bushman’s tool or fed them your half-masticated leftovers, you could do a lot worse than
this model by Combi, whose notable features are a basic, adjustable hinge (forget the thumb thing – it’s useless) and a manageably-short length. (Disclosure: they’re not paying me to say this, our kids just found them the easiest to start with.)
As with the wadded-up paper idea, being able to adjust the hinge to the optimum position actually helps quite a lot for a beginner with growing fingers. Having the hinge fixed or on the end doesn’t quite seem to work as well from my experience. Combi learning chopsticks come with a tidy little carry-case, too, and although they’re recommended for three and up, a determined two-year-old can make a pretty good go of them.
Now, if you’re not a beginner and you’re up to the stage where you’re trying to teach correct finger placement, a set of these is the go:
They also feature a shorter, more manageable length, but with guides for correct finger placement. In our house, we found they worked best from age five and up, and once P was comfortable with the basic chopstick idea. I would only bother taking them on holiday if you’re in the “advanced” category, or are the type of hard-core parent who sticks rigidly to the version of Red Riding Hood where Granny gets thoroughly chewed and eaten, and the wolf, violently killed.