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Posted on Nov 24, 2008 | 28 comments

Make your own learning chopsticks

Make your own learning chopsticks

Teaching kids how to use chopsticks can be tricky. Bug has used a variety of different learning chopsticks that I picked up in local Asian markets, but this weekend I came across a cheap and ingenious workaround that uses regular disposable chopsticks, the paper chopstick wrapper, and a rubber band. A tip of the hat goes to Sushi to Dai For restaurant in San Rafael, CA, where I saw this trick (their omakase sushi special is, indeed, to die for).

DIY chopsticks for beginners (close up)

DIY chopsticks for beginners

To make these, pull apart disposable chopsticks or use regular reusable ones with rectangular ends that will stay securely together. Use a rubber band to tightly bind together the non-eating ends. Take a small strip of paper or half of the wrapper from the disposable chopsticks, and fold it up small. Wedge it in between the chopsticks up near the rubber band, and hand them to your child! Kids can just squeeze the chopsticks together to grab things, and the tips are aligned properly. (Read on for additional tricks for making these, reviews of Edison learning chopsticks and the Fun Chop chopstick learning gadget, and where to see me on TV this morning.)

The trick is to make sure the rubber band is tight enough, and that the paper is not so thick that it’s hard for the children to squeeze the chopsticks together. Four-year-old Bug and his two-year-old friend were able to eat with these without issues — pretty amazing for a two-year-old!

Chopsticks for beginners

While this is a cool workaround for when we’re out, at home Bug currently uses training chopsticks from Edison (the bunny ones shown at right). I like these because the flexible rubber finger guides place the hand in the correct position, and make the child use natural movement to open and close the chopsticks. The thumb guide on this particular pair can be removed and replaced with a guide that doesn’t totally surround the thumb, for advanced learners. The tips are slightly flat and textured to help pick things up. They come in both left- and right-hand versions.

Bug took to these instantly and hasn’t shown frustration with them, which is somewhat surprising for him. :-)  I picked these up at Kukje Korean supermarket in Daly City, but I’ve also found a variety of Edison learning chopsticks on eBay (including Thomas the Tank Engine), a penguin version on Amazon, and of course many other styles of learning chopsticks on Amazon.

The cheap little orange Fun Chop gadget shown above is designed to hold a pair of small children’s chopsticks and help guide little hands, but the child is only learning to squeeze the chopsticks together, which is not necessarily similar to the hand position and movements when using regular chopsticks. Bug gets a little frustrated with them as sometimes the little chopsticks become misaligned and he needs a lot of hand strength to close short chopsticks held together with the Fun Chop. I wish the cheap little gadget were the best one, but the Edison ones really are better and easier for little hands to use.

What has your experience been with learning chopsticks, either for you or your children? Any recommendations or tips on what to avoid? Let us know in comments!

BTW, for any local readers in Sacramento, CA, I’m going to be on the local TV news on FOX40 Tuesday morning at 7:15am and 8:15am (Nov. 25, 2008), making turkey mole enchiladas, curried turkey croquettes, and other creative leftover remakes from Thanksgiving dinner. Tune in or grab it on TiVo to see if I spill something on myself! (UPDATE: Read a little about the TV appearances, with links to the two 4.5-minute segments.)

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  1. Learning chopsticks? Wow! I learn something new everyday here from you! Thanks so much.

    Now I just have to learn how to use them properly myself before trying with my 2 year old. :)

  2. Aw! Thanks for the nostalgic moment Biggie. I remember when I was little going to eat at Chinese restaurants with my parents and the waiters would always make me my own “special” chopsticks with the rubber band and paper. It’s good to know that there are specific products that help kids learn!

  3. Do kids in Japan use learner chopsticks? I guess it makes sense that they would.

    I don’t remember learning to use chopsticks – I’ve been able to as long as I can remember. I’m white, and we don’t use chopsticks at home, but I must have learned how at Chinese restaurants – we went to Chinese restaurants pretty frequently when I was a kid.

  4. Oh, yes! I love the disposable chopstick hack. I’ve used this one a lot with my girl. I can tell you first-hand that a (clean) hair elastic works just as well as a regular rubber band. Since I am more likely to have the former on hand, it’s a natural.

  5. The penguin version is actually of the Korean animated character Pororo. It’s a great series with lots of lessons involved, and some really cute polar animals. I got my three year old niece a pair, and she loves that they have her favorite penguin on them.

  6. I remember teaching myself as a kid with dry spaghetti and then just watching little videos on the subject when I got my first computer as a teen.

  7. It helps to wrap the rubber band into the bind as well. Just wrap rubber band over the protruding paper…we’ve had a couple instances where the little paper wouldn’t stay in place. Ditto on the hair ties Anna mentioned. Our daughter LOVES getting her own chopsticks.
    There are lots of commercial products. Bed Bath & Beyond sells a clothespin/chopstick lovechild for $2. They sell “learner chopsticks” at many of our asian markets (attached rings to help you hold them). And there are little plastic fulcrums that your disposable chopsticks snap into – some restaurants have these for the kids, just ask.
    However, it’s WAY to easy just to do this, and you can’t forget it!

  8. My parents used this trick to help me out when I was a little kid! It was really helpful for those early years when my “fine motor skills” were not so great, haha. It must have been decent training, too, since I use chopsticks quite frequently now.

  9. n high school one of my classes was going to go to a japanese restaurant that didn’t offer to option of western silverware. So we were handed a pair of disposable chopsticks one day in class, shown how to hold them, and given a handful of m&ms to work with. It seems to have worked, since most of us seem to have picked it up fairly quickly.

  10. My girls use these ones from Amazon.com: Combi Chop Stick Trainer

    The big orange part fits into their hands and can be set for either right or left handed use. Once they are more capable, the orange part can be removed. I think they help the girls to hold them the right way and practice good technique. When we are going out to Asian food, I always bring these along :)

  11. A small tip. If you like the Fun Chop ones, they give them away for free at Noodles & Co. I have a small box of them as we pick some up any time me or my roomies go there so that we have them on hand for guests. I think they only come in one size there, but we have used them on all different sizes of chopsticks.

  12. I have no idea what brand ours are. They are a bird and a camel, but they’re adult sized which is silly IMO, but I guess they were intended to teach adults to use chopsticks?
    I’ll have to try the rubber band trick some time.

  13. Love this! Very helpful for visiting nephews and niece. Thanks, Biggie!

  14. I have seen these chopsticks my entire life–our local Japanese hibachi grill/sushi bar has had them as long as I can remember, and we’ve regularly gone there since I was old enough eat food, so at least 20, 21 years.

    Do not all Japanese places have this! You and all the commenters seemed to view this as a new novelty.

    Just having grown up with them, I thought it was the norm

    Just goes to show ya!

  15. I started using chopsticks before western utensils. Not really sure why, as I’m of only vaguely Asian descent. My parents gave me a set to play with at dinner, and were surprised one night when I plucked a piece of chicken off my mom’s plate at about two.

    But my sister used the rubber bands for a while. I think the orange things look great!

  16. We’ve got the Edison chopsticks! They’re pink, for my two girls, ages 4 and 2. They love using them. I love the fact that the finger placement is almost foolproof, and the motion is almost identical to “real” chopstick use. However ,I don’t know about you, but my middle finger goes under the top chopstick and holds it up against the index finger. That’s the only difference between the Edison chopsticks and “real” chopsticks that I’ve noticed.

    That said, I really don’t like the tweezer-style chopsticks — they may help develop some finger-strength while eating, and help with a child’s self-esteem and keep him/her occupied during mealtime, but I can’t for the life of me see how they’d actually train a child in proper chopsticking technique. But then again, what do I know, my kids don’t know how to use chopsticks properly yet…

  17. Man I would love to use chopsticks but my hand strength is bad. I likely would need a tweezer set…

  18. This will work great for all my chopstick ability challenged friends! :D

  19. My Dad used to make us these when he cooked chinese at home, except he used the end of a matchstick and non-disposable chopsticks.

  20. We grew up using chopsticks- I don’t ever remember using training chopsticks. (my brother married a Korean woman, and she was very surprised at the fact that he’s good with chopsticks) Except for my sister- she tried the rubber band thing and finally gave up. I’m thinking of getting some training chopsticks for my niece in a year or two, and I’m glad to read your review as well as the other reviews in the comments.

  21. We have the Fun Chop and it works well for my 4 year old. It was given to us at PF Chang’s one day, in a goody bag with some other fun things. Prior to that she had always used the rubber band trick and it worked just fine.

  22. My grandmother used to make these for me when I was still in my high chair!

  23. Looking at those chopsticks made me nostalgic! When I was four or five (quite a few years ago…) the sushi chef of my brother’s and my favourite restaurant would make them for us. :3

  24. That’s a great idea! I’ve been looking around everywhere for training chopsticks for my little niece!

  25. i wanted to teach my children how to use chopsticks and only had regular ones. They were crying and complaining. I love asian food and i really wanted them to learn and of course they want to be like mommy. i was considering buying child chopsticks online and found this. they are happily using them right now and no more tears!

  26. @34 from maria: Oh good, glad this was helpful to you! It’s always fun to McGuyver things out of ordinary household items instead of plunking down cash for a unitasker. :-)

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