A Girl, Age 8, and Her Very Own Knife

Dad htftyyatsz
Shawn Dawson, of Albany, OR, came up with the perfect present for his littlest girl:

Dear Free-Range Kids: My daughter had her birthday last weekend, and in the weeks leading up to it she has expressed an interest in both whittling and archery.  Well figuring that at age 8 it was time she learned a bit more about safely handling a knife, one present I purchased for her was a very small, pink, swiss army knife.  It’s quite small, but will serve the purpose of teaching her how a knife is a tool (it also has tweezers, scissors, nail file, and a screwdriver) that should be used properly and taken care of.  Any tool can hurt, if one misuses it.  We have talked about how to keep the blade clean, wiping it with a rag from the blunt side of the knife, using oil not water to clean it, and so on.

BTW, while this does not show proportions well, the knife is here:

Works on apron strings, too!

Works on apron strings, too!

For the past week, she has been quite useful around the house, ready to help cut the plastic off of boxes and the like.    Playing outside one day, I noticed her cutting the top off a pop can, so I talked to her about that.  This is not proper use because it will ruin the blade.  I set her up with a bar of soap, and let her practice using the knife on that.  We talked about cutting away from you, not towards you.  But all the talk does not help unless one practices.

In short, a week later, we have had no injuries and she has learned a bit about the knife as a tool.   I think it helped my wife not to worry as the blade really is quite small, and while there may be a slip at some time, it won’t do any major harm.

Now the interesting part is the reaction of my acquaintances, several of whom have seemed genuinely *shocked* that I would give a pocket knife to an 8 year old 2nd grade girl as a birthday present.  It appears that in todays hyper-fear climate, the knife is a step below a handgun, and should not be handled by a grade school child.  I have friends with children in the 4th and 5th grade who said they certainly would not allow their children to “play with knives”!  Sheesh.

I am 50.  This is my 4th daughter (ranging in age from 8 to 27 now).  I was born in 1963, and when I was a child in the early ’70s, most of my friends had pocket knifes — frequently in their pockets at school.  I find the state of fear that has become ‘normal’ in today’s society to be depressing.

In any case, I am looking for archery classes next. – S.D.

40 Responses to A Girl, Age 8, and Her Very Own Knife

  1. lsl October 27, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    Shawn, I think it’s awesome that your daughter wanted a knife, & you got her one. The archery is not surprising, there’s been several movies lately about girls who are awesome at archery. May I recommend checking out the Society for Creative Anachronism (http://sca.org)? It is an historical recreation society, with a focus on learning & teaching medieval skills, including archery, woodworking, horsemanship, clothing construction, metalworking, cooking, etc. If your local group doesn’t have someone who can teach your daughter (or yourself) whatever she wants to learn, they probably know someone who can.

  2. SKL October 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    My sister asked for and received a “real tool kit” for her 8th birthday. My dad was delighted to go shopping for just the right pieces and a shallow metal box for them. 🙂 She used it, too. 🙂

    Said sister was so independent throughout her childhood and young adulthood. Which makes it all the more strange that she still thinks her preschooler needs to use a bib, sippy cup, booster seat, pull-up, and various other items that she herself outgrew by age 1. In fact, she was cooking easy stuff (unsupervised) by the age of her eldest child (4). If she weren’t so sensitive, I’d sit her down about this.

    Do others have any ideas why a free-range, independent, intelligent kid would grow up to treat her kids like babies?

  3. BL October 28, 2013 at 1:03 am #

    A knife?!?!? OMG the terrists won!!!

  4. GW October 28, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    I got my first knife at about that age: my father gave me his jackknife for Girl Scout camping. (A folding knife was a required item on our packing lists! Can you imagine?)

  5. Steve Cournoyer October 28, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    Excellent!It teaches responsibility.

  6. tdr October 28, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    My 9 year old cut his own jack-o-lantern yesterday. Well, we took turns.

    Halloween is a great opportunity to do knife skills with your kid (though honestly that didn’t occur to me until I saw this post today).

    It’s just fun.

  7. Katie October 28, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    I learnt to handle a swiss army knife when I was (I think) 11, at camp. My dad has *always* carried one but I think it just didn’t occur to him to show me how to use it until I expressed an interest. As for having one of my own, I didn’t really want it until I could carry it regularly which meant when I graduated from high school (2000). My homeschooled sons will likely get really good ones when they’re twelve. (Right now they’re 4 and 2. Not ready yet!)

  8. Jake October 28, 2013 at 8:31 am #


    And when it comes to the archery, feel comforted by this:


  9. TaraK October 28, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Good for you! You listened to your daughter, are building a relationship with her through teaching her how to use it and are equipping her for real life where there are sharp things!

    My son got a pocket knife at Cub Scouts in second or third grade. We’ve had two injuries on it, both because he wasn’t using it properly (one on his own and one because he wasn’t using the proper tool for the job). One required pressure and a bandaid (at least he knew to get off the beige carpet!). One required stitches. He learned.

  10. Filioque October 28, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    Great article! We bought our son a Swiss army knife for Christmas last year, and he absolutely loves it. If it makes you feel any less depressed, I’ve been surprised by how many of his friends (generally 3-6 graders) also have pocket knives. And it’s all the more surprising given that many of his friends have hyper protective, safety obsessed parents.

  11. Donna October 28, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    “Do others have any ideas why a free-range, independent, intelligent kid would grow up to treat her kids like babies?”

    Is your sister a type-A personality? I have found that the people that I know who baby their kids the most are type-A, very driven personalities, especially those who left careers to become stay-at-home moms (totally not knocking stay-at-home moms or implying that all, or even most, stay-at-home moms baby their kids). I just think those type-A people need to control everything and babying kids is a way to control the household. And if they left careers to stay-at-home, they need to funnel all the type-A energy somewhere so it goes into doing every.single.thing for their kids.

    Otherwise, it is probably just the same reason that many of us comment that the parents that raised us free range are now much less than free range grandparents – age.

  12. SKL October 28, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Donna, you hit the nail on the head. Yes, my sister is a type A+ and she had to leave her job after her second child was born a micro-preemie. Part of it might also be the fact that her second child was close to death many times (while in NICU) and has brain damage. She correctly believed (partly thanks to my encouragement) that getting serious early on about therapy would make a big difference for her baby. Both of her kids are intellectually advanced and physically on track (except one limb is in a brace). She was even talking about pushing early KG for her eldest, until they tried preschool and realized how unready she is in terms of self-care.

  13. SKL October 28, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    I don’t remember getting my first knife, because it was not an “event.” Most likely I bought one myself with my pocket money, or found one on the ground somewhere. Ah, the good old days.

  14. SKL October 28, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Oh, and my daughter (6.5) also asked for archery lessons. Thanks for the reminder to see if such a thing exists around here!

  15. lollipoplover October 28, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    If makes me sad when basic tools get labeled weapons and dangerous when they’re anything but and help kids problem solve and fix things independently. Are grade school kids allowed to play with screwdrivers and hammers anymore? I remember using a hammer and nails in kindergarten for a project. My kids are fascinated by how things work and are put together so we show them how to use such tools.

    Last week, I was biking home from school with my youngest and saw a little girl wipe out badly on her bike in the middle of the street. Two 3rd graders biked up next to her, helped her up, and jumped off their bikes to help fix hers (the seat was wonky and chain was popped). I checked her injuries (she just scrapped her knee and was more stunned than hurt) but these 8 year-old boys totally fixed her bike and stood next to her to help her back on,genuinely concerned. Seeing that restored my faith that kids today aren’t as doomed as we think.

    For Archery, check out local (county) Fish and Game Clubs for cheap archery classes for youth. We have a weekly class that’s only $3 per kid. They shoot balloons and targets and my kids beg to go. And don’t forget slingshots and aluminum cans to practice aim and coordination. .

  16. Lauren October 28, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    I had to wait until I was 11 to get a knife, because I was a girl. My husband started carrying one at a very young age and still does. I think it was even required in some scout troops. I can’t believe how crazy our society has gotten about simple knives.

  17. CrazyCatLady October 28, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Nice that you could put your wife’s mind at ease! I am sure that your daughter is having a great time. My son has had multi-tools with knives for several years now (he is 8) and loves to carry it around and help people too. He even asked if he could bring it to school, to which the principal asked to see it first. The reason for bringing to school was that he often takes classes where items are taken apart, and I, as helper, end up getting the tool box out of my car so kids can do what they are supposed to do. He convinced the principal of the need, whose only restriction was “keep it in your bag until needed by the teacher – don’t be taking it out to show off to kids.” He has followed this rule and not had any problems. Of course, he has had discussions with me about posts on here, so he understands.

    Now, if I can just get him to keep the little pop “fireworks” out of his bag that goes to school, we would be all set. (The fireworks went to a friend’s house, after hours, in his bag he uses for school.)

  18. Meg October 28, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    My dad always carried a pocket knife and in fact trimmed our toe nails with it!Really better to learn about something ‘it’s sharp’, ‘not a toy’ or whatever earlier than later. Solves the curiosity and perhaps trouble down the line.

  19. Hellen October 28, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    For archery classes check your local 4H group maybe they have a Shooting Sports club that offers archery.

  20. Katie October 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Like a couple of others – I was required to have a knife for girl scouts. I can’t remember my age, but I remember learning how to use it. My dad also always carried one and if we needed it, we just asked…and were then reminded how to properly pass said knife, lol!
    My oldest is only 4 – but we already work on kitchen knife skills. Her coordination is still not great even with the butter knife – but unless she practices and we see how she does, how do you actually know when she is ready. No such thing as the “right” age – depends on the kid!

  21. Jane October 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    My daughter is almost 7. Last weekend we made an apple pie together, i.e. I made the dough, she sliced the apples.

    That afternoon, when we shared the pie with our guest, she proudly told them that she’d sliced the apples. Everyone praised her, and then her uncle said: “Of course you used a special childrens knife for that.” And I said no, it was a normal kitchen knife.

    Everyone was shocked how I could hand a 7-year-old a “real” knife. Well.. she’s been using them since age two for her meals, so – where’s your problem, people? I just don’t get it. How will they ever learn how to use things properly, if nobody will let them try?

  22. S October 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    My dad and I went to the hardware store when I was 9 to pick out a handknife. It had two blades. That afternoon I cut my fingers so severely I still have the scars. My parents’ solution? I had to keep the knife in my parents’ room and ask permission each time I wanted to to whittle sticks. It was never taken away.

    Since then I have added numerous scars to my hands from other knives, mostly during cooking. It’s not their fault I’m a total klutz. I’m not going to stop cooking or whittling!

  23. S October 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    By the way, the cuts from the original knife were from closing the blade onto my fingers. Probably wouldn’t have happened if someone had given me a brief safety lesson.

  24. Papilio October 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Hey, that knife in the picture looks exactly like the one that still spends its existence between my house key and my bike key. Except mine is blue, and doesn’t have a screw driver.
    I got it for my 12th birthday, after seeing it on vacation in the USA that summer. I never had any interest in having one, but then again I’d never seen a blue one before; I think that’s what caught my attention…
    Anyway, it’s a handy little tool to have.

  25. Steve S October 28, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    I had a knife just like that one when I was that age. My daughter hasn’t shown any interest in a knife, but I would certainly get her one if she did. Unfortunately, my state is a mess when it comes to laws related to carrying and using knives. Not only are the state laws poorly written, but we also have a patchwork of local ordinances. In some places, knives are restricted by type and in other places, they are banned outright.

  26. Melissa October 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    I never really had much of an interest in pocket knives. I wasn’t a Scout and my Dad was very firmly of the “butter knife” tool box school – as in, a butter knife is the only tool you need…screwdriver, pry bar, small hammer…etc.

    BUT. He was an amateur chef and I learned at his knee. Proper knife skills and knife care were learned by osmosis as I moved from washing vegetables to peeling, to slicing. I now cook with my just-turned-4-year-old, and while he is still just a stirrer and stuffer, I teach him about knives as we go.

  27. Julie October 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    We just order my 5-year-old a paring knife to help with food prep because she really, really wants to. Her kids’ knife is simply too dull and she’s going to get *more hurt* if she tries slicing or chopping with it any more than she already has. Sharp knives are safer.

    I’m not necessarily recommending the show, but has anyone caught Master Chef Junior? These kids are 8-13 years old, producing restaurant quality food. You can’t do that on “safe” kid equipment. They have to know how to use standard equipment (including KNIVES and cooking over FIRE) and they do. And all of them have been cooking for years. Seriously, they’ve got 10-year-olds who have cooking for 5 years. Some of the kids prepare their family meals several times a week.

    How is it possible? Because they took an interest and an adult taught them and then let them do it. They don’t fear tools.

  28. Stephanie October 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    I really need to get around to looking into archery lessons for my oldest. She really wants them. My two oldest already have pocket knives and have tried whittling, although they aren’t as comfortable as I’d like using knives in the kitchen. Working on that one.

    I was really happy that my youngest daughter’s preschool teacher had the kids help carve the class jack o’ lantern. It was one of those cheapy pumpkin carving tools that you can’t hurt yourself with, but still, the kids got to use it, with help from adults only when their muscles weren’t up for it. Technically it’s a parenting class and the parents are the students, but it’s really a cheap way to run a preschool. Unfortunately, it’s often not very free range since every child has a parent along. Still, the teacher encourages parents to let the kids do the projects, rather than doing them for the kids as so many are prone to doing.

  29. Lani October 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Yay! Our girls (now 11 and 13) both got knives at 9. They also received a big package of ivory soap, a whetstone and a box of fun band-aids. And time spent with each parent learning how to use their new tool. Many of our friends were appalled. We listened politely to their concerns and said, “Thank you for your concerns. We will take them under advisement.” Those knives are still treasured and the girls get really irritated when they would be useful to have with them and they don’t because of all the jailhouse rules at school and every place else.

  30. Jenna K. October 28, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    I wish that kids were allowed to carry pocket knives. I think it’s silly that they can’t even have them at cub scout day camp! My boys all have pocket knives but they can’t ever let on to anyone that they have them or they’ll get in trouble. My oldest got his out one day at recess and was sent to the principal’s office. I got a phone call from the principal that he had taken his knife to school. I was all, “so what?” but they wouldn’t release him until I came in and took the pocket knife straight from them. It was so silly. I still carry a pocket knife with me in my purse. Of course, I worry that I will forget it’s there when I’m flying one time and then it will get taken away. It was a gift from a close friend when I was a senior in high school.

  31. Kimberly Herbert October 28, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    This is important to get into the mind set of those criticizing you.
    “I have friends with children in the 4th and 5th grade who said they certainly would not allow their children to “play with knives”!”

    Of course you don’t allow kids to play with knives. They are tools you teach kids to use them.

  32. Steve Cournoyer October 28, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Gave my step-daughter a small Tekna pocketknife a while back…gave her the basic knife safety demo…. hasn’t cut herself, anyone else or hijacked any airliners yet…

  33. Cindy October 29, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    When my daughter was born I started to help out a friend and for three years was watching her boys overnight 3 nights a week. That meant many many days I had 7 kids under 7. We had strict rules for getting out of the car ;”Hands on the car until I give permission” and strict rules about knives, “no sharp knives”. Once her kids were older and she switched to day shift and my kids were older, I taught mine about knives. Occasionally volume of people makes normal rules unsafe.

  34. Shawn Dawson October 29, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    Hi folks, thanks for the comments. Here it is 5 weeks later and still no injuries. Although the novelty of the knife has worn off and she doesn’t carry it with her everywhere now, she is happy to run and get it to help me when asked. She uses the nail file and tweezers more than the knife currently.

    There has been lots going on in our house, so I have not found Archery classes yet.

    Back to when I was growing up (graduated high school in ’81), the teachers and parents would have considered it foolish to ban knives from schools, and they were right. In high school, the most popular wood working project, reserved for 3rd or 4th year of woods, was the crossbow. Many students made them as juniors and seniors. They took a long time, as the art was in the woodwork of the stock and it was an advanced project. Gorgeous varieties of woods, lots of lamination, lots of sanding and polish. I wonder if such projects would be allowed today.

    I also recall talking to my mom (born in 1940), who said that her school in southern California taught shooting classes to the students on Satudays. That’s right, the students would bring their rifles to school on some Saturdays, and a teacher would teach students how to shoot outside on the school grounds.

    We have a local journalist, who has written a few times about the places he is not allowed to bring his pocket knife. Not too long ago, as he was traveling in northern California, he stopped at Shasta Dam to take a tour with some others. They have a ‘no pocketknife’ rule to tour the dam! That’s right, adults could not have a pocketknife on the tour. He declined to go on the tour rather than surrender his pocketknife. I think more folks should stand up to bad rules.

    I searched it up just now, and here is the PDF file about the tour from the web site: no bags, no electronics, no pocketknives.


    I suppose this is some person’s idea of keeping the dam safe from terrorism. But it seems like theater to me.

    -Shawn Dawson

  35. Lea October 29, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    My son had his own knife when he was two, after learning about knife safety and proper handling. It was a (respected) toy for him, and a tool for learning. Now, at 4, he helps me make dinner by chopping onion, carrots, potatoes, etc. and helps me cook on the stovetop. There is no reason we can’t teach kids how to safely use the tools they will need in life.

  36. Timesnlatte October 29, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    “Which makes it all the more strange that she still thinks her preschooler needs to use a bib, sippy cup, booster seat, pull-up, and various other items that she herself outgrew by age 1. In fact, she was cooking easy stuff (unsupervised) by the age of her eldest child (4). If she weren’t so sensitive, I’d sit her down about this.”

    While I agree about the bib and the sippy cup for a four year old, car booster seats are important, and just common sense. There’s statistical evidence that they prevent injuries and death in car accidents. It’s like wearing a bike helmet – common sense is making a kid wear a helmet when s/he rides a bike. Overprotection is not letting them take the training wheels off until they are 12.

    With the pull-up, I wonder if it’s all day or at night. Night-time wetting is a biological thing, not something that can be taught. My son was in one at night until age 5, and the doctor said they don’t do anything until age 6. Pull-ups beat wet beds in the middle of the night, hands down.

  37. SKL October 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Timesnlatte, to clarify, I was talking about an indoor booster seat when her 4yo sits at the table to eat. She brings it with her everywhere they go. The kid is literally almost as tall as my seven-year-old.

    As for the pull-ups, it is all the time. If it was just the pull-ups, I would not have said anything, but I view it as part of a pattern. I could go on with more examples, but it would get boring. I think you get the picture. 😉

  38. Kristin October 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    This is my first comment to someone elses post since I am new to this site. I have long believed, even subconsciously that ther are two ways to keep people safe, including kids. Prohibit them from doing anything risky, or educate them. I have found that given education and the chance to practice, even children are amazingly capable. It’s sad that pople don’t recognize the immeasurable value that comes with the opporunity to learn from mistakes. I like to think that our confident capable chlldren will grow up to be the adults that arent afraid to try new things, think outside the box, take a bump and get up and try again, apologize for mistakes without blaming anyone, and forgive others when they err.

  39. Librarymomma October 29, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Someone above mentioned wishing his child could take archery classes. I don’t know if he was kidding, but if he looks up his local archery club, they may offer free classes. The one near our house in the Los Angeles area does for anyone 9 or older. Did I mention the classes are free? They did ask for a donation, but it was optional.

    I didn’t go with my son (my husband took him), but he had a great time and went several weeks in row before he got bored with it.

    This was real archery with real bows and arrows, not like the type you might find at an amusement park or Renaissance Fair attraction.

    Regarding knives, we gave our son a pocket knife when he was 7 years old. It was a cheap one and wasn’t very sharp, but we did take the time to teach him to always cut away from his body, etc. Unfortunately, he didn’t use it responsibly and it broke. I’d like to get him a small Swiss Army knife when he’s 10 (in a few months) and teach him to use it properly.

    Just so you all know, I’m not the most Free Range parent when it comes to letting my son do things alone, mainly because we live in a pretty urban area and I worry about cars, plus I tend to have an overactive imagination. Oh well, one thing at a time. But I do appreciate this blog and the encouragement it provides.

  40. Sean November 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    I’m glad you got your little girl a knife, yet am astounded that it is note worthy; just going to show what an amateur dad I really am.

    I think I got my first pocket knife as a “hand me down” from my father on a fishing trip when I was 5 or 6. It was an old three blade, battered and with a cracked handle, but sharp as anything. He taught me basic safety, but also taught me the rules of mumbly peg and told me a story from his childhood that explained why I should never ever ever play it. Yes, I occasionally cut myself, and those cuts were themselves perfect teachers.

    My parents are old enough to be my grandparents and both came from very self-reliant backgrounds, so perhaps the opportunities I had as a kid were unusual, but now that I am the father of a three year old, I fully plan on continuing the tradition. having just discovered this blog, I’m starting to think I’m in for trouble.