Kids and Knives: Perfect Together!

 Readers: I just got a note about a class in Pennsylvania that sounded so good — and anachronistic — I wrote back immediately. Here’s what the teacher wrote back: 
Dear Free-Range Kids: Thanks for being gracious enough to help get the word out about the program.
I’m calling it “Sharp Kids – Outdoor knife skills for responsible girls and boys ages 8-12.”  Here’s the link to a regional events calendar for the full listing.  And provided that I can get enough kids registered, it will be held as two separate classes on Sunday, October 5, 2013, right at the peak of leaf-peeper season here in the Poconos.
I ran a similar program to this for my daughters’ Girl Scout troop a couple of years ago with great success.  I’ve been toying with the idea of holding a larger class for the general public and this is my attempt to do that.  The program is loosely based on a program, called Gjor et spikk, conducted by Norges Husflidslag in Norway from 2005-2010.  From my emails with their program director, they trained over 4,000 teachers and over 200,000 students in various handicrafts focusing on basic knife skills during that timeframe.
Mostly, this program is an attempt, within my little sphere of influence, at push-back against a culture that considers all pointy things to be weapons and all children to be feeble.  Considering that I got my first knife out of a crane game at the local church carnival back in 1973 at the age of 5 (back when you could get pocket knives and Zippo lighters out of crane games at church carnivals), our culture hasn’t always held this dim view of children.  I figure that if the Norwegians are willing to teach these skills to hundreds of thousands of kids over there, the least that I could do is to try to do the same with 40 kids here at home.  You gotta start somewhere.  Questions can be directed to
Thanks for giving me some space for the announcement.  Let’s hope we can generate some groundswell!
Mike Leggiero
Gouldsboro, PA
A new class for kids teaches how not to do this.

The class teaches kids how not to do this.

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35 Responses to Kids and Knives: Perfect Together!

  1. Reader September 10, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    Great idea! That’s when kids are starting to cook (or will be soon in high school food tech here in Australia) so it’s important that they know safety. Would also be good to know some basic first-aid – it wasn’t until AFTER I had a nasty kitchen accident that I learnt the best response is to grab a clean tea-towel from the drawer rather than race upstairs to the bathroom dripping blood. On a related note, teaching them to cut not stab an avocado would also help…

  2. Linda Wightman September 10, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    One of my three-year-old grandson’s favorite books is “The Little Engine that Could.” It’s an old version (it was their father’s book as a child); if they reprint it today, I suspect they have mangled the words, since along with dolls and toy planes and lollipops, the “good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain” are being brought penknives.

    I’d say eight years old is ‘way late for being taught knife skills, but the program sounds like a great start.

  3. Rob September 10, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    “Push back against a culture that considers all pointy things to be weapons and all children to be feeble.”

    Those are words to live by!

  4. Kvirtue September 10, 2013 at 9:28 am #


    My five year old just moved up to being able to use my 6″ chef knife with me supervising.

  5. Brenda September 10, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I remember being much younger and learning to use the paring knife in kitchen first. Taking the tops off strawberries or peeling the skin off apple slices.

    My question for people who think these sorts of classes would be inappropriate is: well, how are they supposed to learn – is it magically endowed at adulthood?

  6. QuicoT September 10, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    Hey! I have just the textbook for them!'s_and_500_Don'ts_of_Knife_Safety

  7. QuicoT September 10, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    More seriously, here’s another area where Japan out-free-ranges the U.S. – my Japanese wife tells me she remembers with relish when she got her first kiddie knife as a gift at the age of 7 or 8…

    Yup, it’s a perfectly culturally appopriate gift, especially for girls. If you’re going to help in the kitchen, you gotta have your own knife. And by that age, lots of Japanese moms expect their daughters to start helping with meals. (If anything, it’s a bit sexist – nobody expects boys to help with meal prep.)

  8. NS September 10, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    If we don’t teach them the right way to handle them, how can we call what we do protecting our kids? This goes for far more than knives.

    I believe a kid should know how to handle a knife without hurting themselves as soon as they have the motor skills to do so. I think they should be taught how to make sure a gun is pointed in a safe direction, how to make sure there is no load in the chamber, and how to engage the safety at about the same age, particularly if there is a gun in their home. I think any child how has the motor control to operate power tools should be taught the safe way to do so.

    Your child may never encounter a gun in the rest of their lives, beyond TV and video games, but wouldn’t you rest easier knowing that they know how to not shoot themselves? I’m told it is possible to go through life without using power tools (though why you’d want to I can’t imagine), but don’t you think it would be good for your son or daughter to know how to use a table saw without loosing a limb? I can’t imagine anyone living their entire lives without having to use a knife (how would you cook? Even if you have people to cook for you, how do you cut up your food? This is basic stuff!) aren’t we doing our kids a disservice not teaching them such a basic and essential life skill?

    Safety is not in never being in a risky situation (that’s fantasy), it’s knowing how to get through one without loosing your head. I think that’s the core of being a free range kid, just as teaching your kids the skills they’ll need for those situations, and letting them practice them is the core of free range parenting…

  9. carpet fiber September 10, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I loved this comment from a blogger I read. He schools his children at home, and wrote, “In public school they have a zero tolerance policy on carrying weapons. We have a zero tolerance policy too. Anyone caught without a knife will be sent home to get one.”

    I have never seen my sons better behaved than the first time I took them shooting. They were both five or six years old at the time. Doing things that can hurt you instills in a child a respect for various absolutes about life, absolutes which a padded-room suburban lifestyle and government-sponsored no-right-answer “liberal arts” education system are designed to help us forget.

    If I let myself get further into this rant, I run the risk of doing things like quoting Aldo Leopold

  10. NS September 10, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    @carpet fiber

    I think you said it better than me, thanks!

  11. Jennifer L.W. Fink (@jlwf) September 10, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    I love this idea.

  12. Tom Saask September 10, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    My daughters and granddaughters all get to choose their own swiss army knife when they’re 12, and they get good pocket knives after high school. Safety and political correctness cautions included.

  13. John Hritz September 10, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Teaching kids whittling or other craft skills with knives is very old. Colonial Williamsburg’s Roy Underhill did an episode of the Woodwrights Shop on Sloyd.

  14. Ann in L.A. September 10, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    We have an art teacher at our school who probably assumed 11-year-olds had some basic knife skills. They were given cardboard and exacto-knives; which is not the best combination for safety, in my book. She did not go over basic knife safety, and did not closely supervise the knives.

    Sure enough, one kid pushed on the knife instead of pulling it, pushed it right into his hand, and did some major damage to his finger, damage that required surgery and left him with some permanent numbness. There also was a lot of blood which was a bit shocking to everyone present.

    In an earlier generation, the teacher would have been correct to assume that the kids knew what they were doing; but today, she should have carefully instructed on how to use the knives, reminded everyone to keep in mind where the blade will go if it slips, and kept a closer eye on things.

    You can’t assume kids are competent with knives anymore.

  15. lollipoplover September 10, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    The best is it’s open to “responsible” boys and girls. Amen to that.

    Knives are a very functional tool- they can be used to create almost anything given good instruction. My son loves to use his swiss army knife to whittle sticks and make homemade bows and arrows, spears, decoys. Everywhere we go he looks for sticks and wood (free!) for new projects and has been measuring the distance his arrows shoot lately(20 yards is his best so far). Keeps him occupied for hours outdoors. This class sounds awesome and I wish there were more like this.

  16. Hels September 10, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    There is a show now on Food Network where kids – the youngest one is 10 – are cooking on real stoves, using real knives… and all are saying that they have been cooking since they were five or younger. What is that if not a proof that kids are capable of great many things if their parents let them… I wonder if that could be used to drive momentum for change…

  17. CLamb September 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Great idea, but I am surprised they give the kids a fixed blade knife at the end. I’d think a folding pocket knife would be more useful.

  18. Shelly Stow September 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Fantastic. I started teaching high school in the early 1970’s, and not a week went by without my saying at least once, “Guys, will one of you bring your knife and…” whatever needed cutting or sharpening or prying in the classroom. Half a dozen guys would be on their feet pulling the pocketknife out and taking care of the problem.

    I retired in 2000. I cannot tell you when it changed, when the sight of a knife would have sent students screaming for an assistant principal and resulted in a suspension for the knife-wielder.

    Much was lost between 1970 and 2000; the greatest was common sense. In 2000 it was probably just misplaced. By now, it is so lost that I don’t know if we’ll ever see it again.

  19. Lauren September 10, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    That sounds awesome! I had to wait until I was 11 to get a pocket knife, because I was girl. But I loved it!

  20. Ali September 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    My daughter and I were reading a recipe for her to try in a local paper…the article suggested that “cutting implement” was needed. They meant knife. I guess even using the word knife in a recipe geared toward children is now verboten.

  21. Papilio September 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    I read one big knife obsession. Doesn’t matter if parents think their kids should either be kept away from sharp objects forever or get their very own knife at age 5 (or whatever). Obsession obsession obsession.
    It’s just a tool.

  22. Mike Leggiero September 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    Thanks again, Lenore. I appreciate the plug for the program. I had a hunch that your readership would fully grasp the concept. Ironically enough, it was early research on this topic that ultimately lead me to your website. I’d like to address a couple items from the comments if I may for folks who may have similar desire.

    Firstly, I don’t really have a written curriculum that I could send out. At least not yet. I’ve received a fair number of requests so far. I have started compiling my thoughts into outline form for possible book on the subject. Hopefully that isn’t just grandiosity on my part. There seems to be a need for one.

    I agree with you folks that believe that the age group is getting a bit old to be learning knife skills. However, since I’m working with other people’s kids, I’m hedging my bets that the kids will be calm and attentive enough to manage in a large group by myself. My kids learned much earlier. Heck, my younger daughter asked for and received a hatchet for her ninth birthday.

    And finally, re: fixed vs. folding knives. I’ve come to the conclusion that, despite the commonly held belief that folders are more safe that fixed blades, the exact opposite is true for younger children depending on the knife. Their hand strength just isn’t up to actuating a folder safely. The one concept that I teach is to never force a knife. IMO that holds true for opening and closing as well as while in use.

    Thanks for letting me know that I’m not the lone voice of reason in the wilderness.


  23. Crystal September 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    My 5-year-old has been using a paring knife to slice his own fruit for more than a year. Not a single accident so far, because I started teaching him at 3.

  24. Lillian September 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    I know that many helicopter parents’ response to Free Range is that we parents are too lazy or can’t be bothered to constantly watch and do everything for our kids. But it seems that they can’t be bothered to teach them life skills like how to handle tools or navigate their neighborhoods safely that they constantly have to be watching over their kids. We are putting in as much effort, but so that they are prepared to fly on their own when they’re out of the nest.

  25. Goody September 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    I don’t know about your kitchen, but in mine, the Crusset pots are more dangerous than the knives are. You could break a foot if you drop one…

    Knives are tools-you have to use them properly. We just moved recently-I can’t imagine unpacking all those boxes by peeling away strapping tape. I also can’t imagine tackling all those boxes without help from my child.

    I love the idea of outdoor skills with knives. Fishing comes to mind-cutting line, gutting fish, all things that require use of a knife.

    I remember having a small pocketknife that clipped to my keychain as a young child. Wouldn’t want to walk into a school with that now.

  26. Rachel September 10, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    I want this as a mother-daughter class. I grew up fairly free-range but still missed out on a lot of things. I cut up fruit just fine but anything beyond that makes me nervous.

    In another year or two, my husband’s going to run a little mother-daughter bicycle class.

  27. fred schueler September 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    I could give a workshop on how to slice your index finger while trying to carve Coconut shell, so you’ll know your right from your left hand for life.

  28. mobk September 11, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    Sounds great. I think I got a Swiss Army Knife when I was 6 or so and hope to do approximately the same for my son and daughter. Son (3.5) is already put to work (under supervision) chopping easy to cut foods with a not overly sharp paring knife.

    For the person who mentioned “knife obsession”. Yes it is true that knives are just tools. But they are powerful tools, and what kid (or adult) doesn’t like the feeling of being able to use and control a powerful tool.

    And it doesn’t need to stop at knives. Teach your kids how to use other tools, both of the kitchen variety and the workshop variety at the appropriate ages!

  29. NS September 11, 2013 at 9:14 am #


    @Mike Leggiero

    Re: Fixed vs. Folding, I would go further. In my opinion (speaking as someone who works with, collects, makes, and modifies knives), Fixed blades are inherently safer than folders in almost all respects. I will grant that a well built folding knife totally encapsulates the blade when not in use, and is therefore marginally safer, but the grip to hilt joint is much weaker in all cases, and is subject to mechanical wear and failure. For my money, and fixed blade is the ideal tool to learn and hone knife skills with, and is a staple tool.
    Don’t get me wrong, once you’ve mastered the basics of safe use and storage on a fixed blade, a good quality folding knife, appropriately sized and built for the purpose you intend to use it for is an excellent thing to have. I just don’t think they provide the stable platform a beginner whittler, carver, butcher, cook, or camper needs.

    As to the age of your pupils, you make a good point, they will probably be easier to manage, and I don’t think there is an age at which one is too old to start learning these skills.


    How is wanting your kids to know how to use such a basic tool, perhaps one of the first tools we, as a species came up with, an obsession? This is a tool that is probably used more than any other in the kitchen (I don’t use the stove for every dish I prepare, but there are precious few that I don’t use a knife to make), and is used in countless workplaces and handicrafts. Is it obsession when we want our kids to learn to read? If we didn’t, it would be very easy to keep them away from content we don’t want them exposed to (everything from pornography to political and religious views we disagree with), but that would undoubtedly cripple them as adults, and rob them of a great many childhood experiences, of inestimable value.

    I’ve been using knives since I can’t remember when, I’ve used knives for every conceivable purpose. On occasion, I’ve had mishaps, and my hands bear the scars of my past mistakes, some from too long ago to remember, but today I use knives of so many sizes and description, and of extreme sharpness (I’m rather proud of how sharp I can make a knife :D) with ease and confidence. How many kids growing up today will spend their lives nervous of using a knife, going swimming, doing any of the countless, simple things that an independent person should be able to do without a second thought?

    You’re right, it is just a tool. Any 8 year old should be able to use one…

  30. Papilio September 11, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    @NS: Let’s start with the fact that we’re even talking about this. That the topic ‘teaching kids knife skills’ even comes up. That it comes up on this blog.
    And why does it come up on this blog? Because, apparently, it’s not normal anymore in the USA to teach kids knife skills. There are parents who are so afraid Snowflake will hurt him/herself that they rather keep him/her away from any sharp object, even at the age of 9/10/12.
    Now if it were just the parents, it would be one thing. But I read about how schools are even worse, punishing kids for bringing/making anything that even remotely reminds of a weapon. Like that kid who read a magazine that had a picture of a knife on the back, or the girl who accidently brought her father’s lunchbox that contained a Swiss army knife he always cut his apple with.
    Wouldn’t you call that a knife obsession?

    I’m just trying to say that no-one seems relaxt about it; not the ‘NO, NEVER, knives are dangerous!’ parents and not the ‘hah!-MY-3yo-cuts-the-meat-on-Sunday’ parents (no, I don’t mean anyone in particular).
    And since you mention reading: no-one seems relaxt about that either.

  31. In the Trenches September 11, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    I’m a teacher and an ex-soldier. I used to wear my multi-tool (pliers, screwdrivers, knife) on my belt, and pretty much every day would find a use for it. Then I was told by the Vice Principal that it was a weapon and I couldn’t wear it. I asked him if he thought I would use it as a weapon, and he said, “Of course not, but since the students can’t bring weapons to school, neither can you.” Leaving aside the question of whether a multi tool is really a weapon, this is one of the dumbest arguments I’ve ever heard. But the school systems love the black and white thinking, for some reason. Completely decontextualised and absurd, but hey, it’s a rule and teachers love rules, right? Bah. They’re yearning for a simple model of the world that does not, has never, and will never exist. And they’re too chickensh*t to actually make decisions in context. So, blanket rules for everyone. How did we get hooked into this paradigm?

  32. In the Trenches September 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    A gun I can understand being called a ‘weapon’ and not being allowed at school. It has no other purpose other than being a weapon. I don’t recommend using it to hammer nails. But a knife is primarily a tool, and only becomes a weapon when it is misused. There’s a big difference, in my view. Yeah, I’ve hurt myself on a bread knife, but I got a worse injury once when I impaled my hand on a knitting needle. Many traditional Chinese martial arts weapons are actually common household items: fans, benches, flails (for threshing)…a weapon is something that is used as a weapon. Knives are not, as far as I know, primarily used as weapons. I don’t see how that definition is allowed to stand.

  33. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt September 11, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Love it! I’d love to sign my girls up! But why wait till they are eight to twelve years old? My girls (5 and 3) wield knives in the kitchen all the time. I write about it here:

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  34. NS September 12, 2013 at 9:35 am #


    What becomes the norm at school becomes the norm in society. Knives being viewed as weapons and not tools in school leads to a societal view that they should be kept away from kids, during the prime time for them to learn their safe use. I see that as an assault on common sense, and I see no reason why anyone should be relaxed about that.

    @In the Trenches

    One point; as Lenore has brought up in the past, schools used to have target shooting clubs, and teach marksmanship, within living memory. Opinions differ on weather that makes sense today (we’re not raising our kids to fight the “Commies” these days), but do we want to see classes like wood shop and home economics go the same way?
    There is no reason to believe educators will reign this trend in. We’ve seen reported on this very sight where art supplies like paint brushes have become suspect, so I don’t think I’m engaging in reductio ad absurdum when I predict that we will one day see every day items like math kits (think of the pointy bits on a compass, or set of dividers), scissors, pencils, pencil sharpeners, and just about every item in home ec. and shop classes banned from schools. If it’s not safe for your kids to use these tools under the guidance of a “professional educator”, than how can it be safe for them to use them around a lowly lay person such as yourself?
    I would agree that knives are an outlier, no question, but they are not as far from the core as we might imagine. So, how much of your child’s education do you want to give up?
    The question is, where do we choose to put our collective foot down? When do we demand that what schools won’t teach, we have the right to reach at home? When do we demand that schools have, by their very definition, the explicit duty to teach certain things, and that it is not acceptable for them to refuse to do so because of the tools involved in the task?

  35. Papilio September 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    @NS: “What becomes the norm at school becomes the norm in society. Knives being viewed as weapons and not tools in school leads to a societal view that they should be kept away from kids, during the prime time for them to learn their safe use. I see that as an assault on common sense,”

    Yes – and I called it a knife obsession. Because of all that negative attention to the combination children + knives, it’s not a normal, casual aspect of (a child’s) life anymore.

    “and I see no reason why anyone should be relaxed about that.”

    That was not what I meant; sorry you misunderstood me.
    I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing twice now, and I don’t know how to put it differently from what I’ve already written. I’m sorry. Maybe someone else knows what I mean and can explain it better than I.