Every parent wants to equip their child with as many “tools” as possible to ensure their child reaches their own unique personal-best. Understanding traditional dining etiquette and the proper usage of a table setting is an example of a lifetime “tool.” Learning how to navigate an extensive table setting may be difficult if you haven’t been taught. What age is the “right” age to teach your child how to navigate a place setting? It depends.
A traditional “informal” place setting consists of two forks, a dinner knife and two spoons, several glasses, napkin and appropriate plates to support an informal three-course meal. However, few families’ tables today enjoy three course meals requiring five pieces of cutlery. Todays “informal” family-dinner place setting tends to be a simple setting consisting of a single fork, knife and spoon, a drinking glass, napkin and single dinner plate. With only one fork, children do not have to know traditional dining etiquette since there are no choices of utensils at their place setting.
The “right age” to teach a child how to navigate a formal table setting is going to depend on your family’s dining table, what type of restaurants your family attends with your children, and also whether your child attends formal events. If your family sets a traditional “informal” place setting or frequently dines where multi-course meals are served, you have the wonderful opportunity to begin to teach your children during these types of dining experiences.
However, if your family sets an “informal” family-dinner place setting with only 3 pieces of cutlery, you should consider exposing your child to a multi-course meal with a 4 or 5 piece setting to begin to teach them about the differences of each utensil. Since we all have opportunities to dine together (even if it’s just once a week at home or at a diner) I would suggest you serve and/or order dinner in at least two simple courses. The “first-course” could be sliced fruit or perhaps just the simple vegetable that you otherwise would have served on the dinner plate, using a salad fork. The “main-course” follows on a dinner plate, using the dinner fork, and place knife. This simple two-course meal may be enjoyed by even 3 year old! As a mom of 4 children ranging in ages 3-10, I also suggest involving your child by asking them to help you set the table so you can explain to them what each of the pieces of the place setting is for: “this is the fork we are going to use for the yummy fruit;” “this is the fork we are going to use for our mashed potatoes and chicken.” Even my 3 year old helps set our table – he is GREAT at setting out the napkins!