Knives can be dangerous weapons. They can cause serious injury and knife crime is rising, but knives are also the most commonly used tools we humans have. Show me a chef that doesn’t have a selection or a farmer, woodworker, sailor, fisherman, rock climber, canoeist, scout or bushcrafter who doesn’t own at least one knife specific to his or her craft.
When Should We Teach Our Children to Use Knives?
So when should we give a knife to our precious child? Well they should be learning to hold and use a table knife from the age of three or so to cut their own food. It doesn’t have to be sharp and all kids are different but basic knife and fork skills are so important and should be in place before school.
Sharp knives as tools are clearly a different proposition but if your child has the motor skills to hold a knife carefully, if they are ready to listen and learn and if you as a parent are ready to spend time teaching the rules and basic skills then it’s a good time. The time you spend with them will be a bigger gift than the knife itself. Most kids age 8 and above should be ready but you are the adult, you make the rules and you know your own.
The Scandinavian Sloyd System
In Scandinavia, educational Sloyd is a system of handicraft-based education taught in all schools for ages 9 to 15. It’s compulsory like PE lessons and teaches knife skills for woodworking, textiles and other materials. Valuable skills for life!
Kids need to learn respect for a knife as a tool with many uses, not a weapon or a toy. They need to know how to hold it, store it and carry it safely. What places can they carry a pocket knife without getting into trouble? (generally, in the garden or home, on private land or campsite but not down the shops or ever at school. Even if the blade is less than 3” and doesn’t lock therefore a “legal carry” its best to get into good habits early in life). Do they have basic first aid skills to deal with the inevitable first accident?
Starting Off Your Children Using Knives
Show your kids how to work away from them, keeping fingers and limbs out of the way. You don’t have to start whittling sticks from the off. Vegetables can be more fun and a bit softer and you can eat the shavings. Try carrots or parsnips. A bar of soap is good too for carving (but not for eating afterwards!). Working towards a wooden block is a great way to start using a knife in a safer way, resting the work piece on the block makes cutting easier and reduces the temptation to cut towards yourself.
Safety Conscious Knife Options for Children
There are a few knives out there designed for children to learn with. Remember; folding pocket knives can fold on fingers during use so while they make great tools to carry on a camping trip, for whittling, carving and more intense use, a fixed blade will be much safer.
My First Opinel: A folding knife but with a locking mechanism so safe in use. It has a rounded tip so hard to stab with and less likely to damage if you drop it on your toe! Its pretty sharp so good for whittling and string cutting, shelter building. Wooden handled in several colours. Stainless steel blade will keep it’s edge well.
Mora Safe: A fixed blade knife with a finger guard and sheath. Rounded tip and a blade thick enough for some meatier projects. Used by many buschcraft and forest schools. The forgiving carbon blade is easier to sharpen and learn sharpening skills with.
Wood Jewel Wilderness 6.2cm: Not specifically for kids but very good for smaller hands and a short 6.2cm blade with a good thickness that won’t flex in use. Useful for whittling, carving and many bushcraft uses. Comes with a leather sheath. A beautiful, practical first bushcraft knife for a child really ready to respect their knife without too hefty a price tag. Forgiving carbon blade.
Victorinox D of E Knife: A non-locking, round ended blade less than 3 inches long with multiple other tools. Great as a camping tool but a useful blade for a bit of whittling if whittling required. Beware of it folding on fingers though.
The Childrens Safety Knife by E Jonsson of Mora in Sweden: This is tiny and cute, with a rounded end, finger guard and leather sheath.
So in summary,
Knives aren’t necessarily a bad idea, they are our most common and misunderstood tools.
We all will use knives and we will all cut ourselves at some point and need to know how to deal with that.