A Whittle Help Needed

Hi Readers! Over at ayayfinksk
another blog
I was just reading about a 4-year-old and his kitchen knife skills. They were good for his age, as evidenced by the video, but it’s not like he’s Julia Child. So I’m wondering: What age can we start teaching kids to use knives? And does anyone have any info about the “olden” days? Like — what age did kids used to start whittling? Going a little further back, at what age did kids start using stone tools? And if anyone knows what is going on in other countries, please tell: Do kids in other cultures use knives or spears or machetes very young?

I have a feeling kiddie knife-use is going the way of tree climbing and fort-making. So zooming back to our present day culture right here in the nervous first world, if you’ve got a simple tip for getting kids started (or getting PARENTS ready to get their kids started) do tell!  Thanks! — L.

160 Responses to A Whittle Help Needed

  1. Scott Trimble February 28, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    I am almost 34 years old, thus born in 1977, and I grew up in Northern California. I believe that I had my first small pocketknife when I was in Cub Scouts, thus approximately age nine or ten. Just like with anything else that could be dangerous, I was taught how to use these things safely… and then I was trusted to do so. Sure, I might have nicked my fingers once in awhile, but I learned from the experiences.

  2. Elena Thomas February 28, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    Good afternoon!
    I came across your blog while doing research for my MA in Art Practice and Education. My art work is currently concerned with the over-protection of our children. There are a few photos of work in progress on my website if you are interested. I’d like to let you know that during my research I feel a turning of the tide, people are beginning to see the nonsense of having children grow up without a clue how to function in the world. This very fact will be the thing that makes them vulnerable adults, after being invisible children. I recommend the book by Helene Guldberg “Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and play in an age of Fear” and also in response to your query about knife-weilding children… the link below.


    keep up the good work!
    Elena Thomas

  3. Pamala February 28, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    I think you should let the child lead you on this.. when my daughter was around 4 1/2 almost 5 she started getting impatient and I think I waited too long.. one day I found her cutting her apple off the core with a PLASTIC SPOON… I was like ok it’s definitely time to teach her some basic knife skills! however my 6 yr old nephew would require very vigilant supervision with that knife or he would probably end up stabbing someone lol

    as for when kids used to handle knives and whittle and etc.. I’m not entirely sure except that I know I used a sharp knife when I was 3 and cut myself, which is what led me to trying to make my daughter wait… I think that may have an effect on a lot of people, if they remember using a knife and cutting themselves at a certain age they may think they are protecting their children by just not letting them use a knife…

    oh and for the record, in the last 4 yrs my daughter has never cut herself with a knife but I know I have at least 3 times LOL

  4. ginad129 February 28, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    My son is close to five and does not yet have the manual dexterity for me to trust him with a real kitchen knife. He has used a butter knife to help with making peanut butter sandwiches and the like, and he can use a pizza wheel to cut his food in to easy-to-manage pieces by himself. So, he’s working towards it, but he’s not there yet.

    I think there’s probably a big window of what’s “normal” on this one, and It depends more on the child’s dexterity than an actual age.

  5. Alison @ Bluebirdmama February 28, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    Growing up in the Yukon in the 70’s, my older brother had his own Swiss Army Knife and a small hatchet when he was 8. He used them when we were out camping and my parents showed him how to use them properly and generally supervised his use.

    My son was 3.5 when we let him start using a small paring knife in the kitchen to cut cucumber, avocado and other veggies.

  6. cagey February 28, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    I am a girl and had a pocketknife when I was 8 or 9 (this would have been the late 70s. Ahem.) I love whittling! I also had a leather tooling kit, so apparently, I was an odd sort of girl.

    I let my 3.5 yo and 5 yo use butter knives – I encourage them to cut things and attempt to make their own sandwiches. They also have their own safety scissors and I do let my 5 year old use my kitchen utility scissors. I am not ready for my 5 yo to use real knives yet – I have managed to cut myself enough with them that I am not quite there with letting HIM use one.

  7. Jen February 28, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    I was born in ’78, my brother was born in ’73. We grew up first using plastic knives very young with our playdough, metal butter knives with anything appropriate, and sharp knives under supervision. I think in my family it wasn’t considered necessary for a young kiddo to have a pocket knife. If we needed to cut something and wanted to do so ourselves, we’d talk to a grown-up.

    Now with our daughter, the key will be education and supervision, then trust. I know she’ll knick herself, and it won’t be the last time. It will also be an opportunity to explain some basic first aid. I guess we are less concerned with accidents, and more concerned that our daughter handle herself and situation appropriately when things do go awry.

  8. LKH February 28, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    I have been doing some training on Forest schools & we are planning whittling lessons with 3-4 year olds in the coming weeks. We plan to use a wood like elder- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambucus

    We will give the children potato peelers (The ones with the solid ergonomic handle) & scrap the bark away. Obvious instruction given that they always move the blade away from the body. Slow controlled movements.

    We will then be using hacksaws & bowsaws. To cut the elder into small pieces to make beads & whistles.

    I think as long as the tools are introduced carefully, explained in age appropriate language, demonstrated safely, given an opportunity to use with support, then supervised use it is a pretty “safe” activity.

  9. Jen February 28, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    I think it also depends on the emotional maturity and temperament of the child. My nephew, at age 15 still makes some inappropriate decisions when it comes to sharp objects. My brother, at age 11 threatened me with a knife. These things did not ever cross my mind, even at age 5. My hubs was using, not only knives, but power tools by age 8, as he was helping his dad remodel the house. He was a very mature and responsible kid.

  10. christy February 28, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    This past Christmas my aunt was shocked that our 2.5 year old uses a knife. It’s a kids knife – it’s not super sharp, and she uses it to cut up food. NOT as a weapon or anything like that. She loves to cook, and is a help in the kitchen! We love it!

  11. Laura February 28, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    My 3.5 yr old uses a butter knife to spread pb and j, and a steak knife to cut some soft vegis and fruit. She also peels carrots. I supervise and remind her to keep her fingers away. She has done very well. My almost 2 yr old begs to do the same, but I’m making her wait.

    In the movie babies it shows very young babies (9mo – 1 yr) using two rocks as a mortar and pestle like their mothers.

  12. J Kent Kroencke February 28, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    I used knives as a kid (born in 71) and have a giant scar on my thumb and on my index finger that took stitches (separate incidents). My point is that there are much worse things that cutting your self open on accident. I got stitches, it sucked, but somehow I survived and became a well adjusted adult. I am MUCH more careful with knives after that ( I am male so it took at least two trips to the emergency room to learn my lesson.)

    I believe that the goal is not to keep kids from injury free necessarily, but manage the limit to which they are injured. I would say that 8 or 9 is a good age to start. Before that kids just don’t have the hand strength and dexterity to remotely use a knife properly.

  13. anonymousmagic February 28, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    Your friend Gever Tulley had a section about knives in his TED talk. Inuit children start cutting whale blubber from when they’re tiny.

  14. Raquel February 28, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    I live in the north of Israel. Here they started teaching the kids to use a knife in Gan (pre-nursery I guess) at age 3. They let the kids cut their fruits and vegetables for a salad on some days. For Hannukah they make their own latkes using graters. We have adorable pictures that the teachers sent home of 30 kids aged 3-4 wearing aprons and grating potatoes by hand.
    This year my daughter (now 4.5) also learned to use a peeler. She come home once in a while with bandaids because she cut herself in some way or another, and she tells me that other kids also get booboos all the time. The teacher simply washes it and put a bandaid, no big deal made.

  15. Jennifer February 28, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    I think it really depends on the kind of knife. Even very small children can use butter knives safely. At about age 6 my kids started using sharper knives under supervision and with instruction. I’m thinking 8 or 9 for less supervised use or for pocket knives.

  16. Meagan February 28, 2011 at 1:22 am #

    With my kids I’ll probably be a bit more conservative than this kid’s parents. My kids will get their first pocket knivesonce they’ve developed a consistant handwriting. The thought being- having distinct handwriting (does not have to be legible) is a good indicator of hand-eye coordination AND it puts some control over gaining a responsibility in the child’s hands (sorry) rather than assigning an arbitrary age when a kid should magically be “ready.” I’m assuming this will be around 7 for most kids, but I guess I’ll hav to wait and see since my first is a 5.5 month old fetus.

  17. N February 28, 2011 at 1:27 am #

    As far as kitchen knives go, I think it depends on the kid and their manual dexterity plus their responsibility. My friends got their 4 year old a set of nylon kitchen knives – they work to cut things like vegetables and such, but won’t cut your fingers off. I thought that was pretty cool to teach her how to use the knives safely before giving her a “real” knife.

  18. K February 28, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    I remember using butter knives to make PB&J from age 3 at the oldest, and sharper knives, with supervision, not long after that. My dad (the cook in our house) was sure to teach me what knife to use for what job– if you try cutting an apple with a knife that’s barely sharper than a butter knife, it’ll slide and you’re much more likely to cut yourself. A good, sharp serrated knife is actually much safer, because it goes where you want it to.

    I do remember slipping and cutting a finger once or twice, but nothing scarring– in either sense of the word. And now I’m a confident cook.

    Contrast this with my husband’s upbringing– “Don’t come in the kitchen! You’ll burn yourself! You’ll cut yourself! Don’t touch that!” He ended up being terrified of the kitchen and having no confidence in his ability to figure anything out, and I had to teach him how to use a can opener when he was in his mid-20s.

  19. Anna B February 28, 2011 at 1:37 am #

    I have a friend whose fam is on temporary assign in Germany through her husband’s company. Her son’s first school suggested that he be retained. First reason: language barrier, which made sense. Second reason: poor knife skills! They were shocked to learn that most three year olds in the US are not taught to cut their meat. Once introduced, of course he did well, but it had not occurred to my friend that her children would be assessed on this skill.

  20. SKL February 28, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    My kids started using table knives to butter bread and cut soft stuff before age 3. I have let them do a little cutting with actual sharp knives during cooking before they were 4 – but only with intense guidance and supervision. I would probably let them cut some stuff with sharp knives now at age 4, but frankly, I hardly ever cook, so there isn’t much opportunity.

    I could see giving them a blunt pocket knife at 4 just to get the hang of how they work and what they are used for. It would be up to them to prove to me when they were ready for one that could do actual damage. My guess would be age 8 or younger.

  21. Christina February 28, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    My kids are in Montessori, so they’ve been doing (supervised) “apple work” as they call it with small paring knives since they turned 3. They’ve both cut themselves at least once to an extent they needed bandaids, but only once! Before that, I would let them use kitchen knives to spread jelly or honey on their bread. The only way to develop manual dexterity is to practice it, in my opinion.

    I got my first swiss army type pocket knife sometime around 7 or 8. I’ll probably follow that timeline with my boys as well should they show an interest.

  22. Chas Clifton February 28, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    I think I got a pocketknife around nine or ten, along with a little whetstone that Dad taught me to use. As with Scott Trimble, Cub Scouts might have contributed too, but Dad always carried a pocketknife, so I did.

    Of course, you should buy your kid a cheap knife, because he or she will lose it.

    I never stabbed anyone, honest.

  23. Heather Q February 28, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    I got a pocket knife when I was about six from my granddad. My boys all have several. They are 11, 8 and 5.

    My granddad gave me two words of warning… cut away from your hand and keep it sharp. It is easier to cut yourself with a dull knife.

  24. Rayne of Terror February 28, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    I let my 18 month old “use” a butter knife at the table. I started letting my eldest use steak knives to help with dinner, closely supervised, at 4. My eldest is now 6 and can use kitchen knives quite well. I still supervise. For example I’ll be at the stove browning meat and he’ll be at the kitchen table cutting celery and green peppers. I can keep an eye on him, but I don’t hover.

    I know this is unusual because I volunteered in his kindergarten class midway through the year with an activity that required the kids to spread cream cheese on crackers with a butter knife. Only 3 out of 21 children had this skill.. A couple children told me they had never even touched a butter knife.

    I started letting my eldest son use a butter knife because I saw a blog video of a child 9 months younger than him making peanut butter sandwiches for his 6 older siblings. It occurred to me he was probably more capable than I was allowing him to be and I was correct.

  25. Giorgia February 28, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    Hello from an italian girl just landed in NY! As far as my family is concerned, we children started having our own knife on the table at about 4 or 5, when we were able to handle both fork and knife toghether.
    I remember cutting slightly my finger when attempting to peel an apple at the age of 4 – too difficult! But I wasn’t traumatized from the experience, be reassured!

    I think kids can develop extraordinary manual skills if we let them, and I don’t know anybody who seriously injured him or herself whith cutlery.

    Oh, wait a second! My best friend once throw a pointed knife at her brother, they were 4 and 8, and the knife centred him just between the eyes… luckily no damage done, but the idea came from the “miracle blade” advertising on tv!

  26. dmd February 28, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    I definitely do not want to reopen the scouting debate, but I will say this is an area where the cub scouts are ahead of the game.They teach use of a knife and the boys can get a whittling card once they have demonstrated their skills with a knife. We gave my son (he’s 9) a pocket knife for Christmas this year. I think it’s a good thing for a boy to have!

  27. Patti February 28, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    Depends on the knife and the kid. My own kids (and the two-year-olds in my nursery school class) used plastic knives at a young age to cut vegetables and soft fruits into little bits. My own kids don’t have the greatest fine motor skills, so we’ll stick with plastic knives for awhile. They are 7 and 9. I have cut myself with a serrated plastic knife, so it’s not entirely risk-free and it gets the job done. My son has a cub scout pocket knife that he’s been trained how to use, but so many places restrict what kids can bring he never gets to do anything with it other than show it to people.

    I remember cutting food up in summer camp while still in elementary school. I also used an iron in art class before I was 9. I burned myself pretty badly with an iron a couple of summers ago, so I’m pretty shy about letting my kids use it.

    When I worked in a kitchen we weren’t supposed to use sharp knives until we were 16. I know I was younger than that when I started prep.

    Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats on cooking with kids. I think he may have recommended age 13 to start with serious knives (anyone remember?) but he did give some great tips to help all of us avoid stitches.

  28. Elizabeth February 28, 2011 at 1:47 am #

    It’s such an individual thing, depending on their judgment and physical abilities. I have no qualms whatsoever about either child using our dull-as-spoons Ikea butter knives. At the absolute worst, it would scrape the finger, but they heal so fast and at least they would learn the lesson about knives easily.

    My older daughter, I feel, is now old enough to use a steak knife to cut things like cheese. She’s four. Our knives are pretty dull, so they are okay for cutting soft things. I cut myself weekly cutting vegetables because I’m klutzy and because I’m always late. I think I’ll wait several more years before I let her cut vegetables with a sharp knife.

    First of all, I want proper knives before she is using them. And second of all, I know that in the country in Asia where my husband is from, they don’t let kids cut vegetables until around nine or ten. Eight at the earliest. Kids are just clumsy and foolish at times. They can also ruin the knife. They also let children run around unattended at like, three. “Free range” doesn’t even touch the level of freedom that most kids there have (when they aren’t working). So I think it’s safe to say that their judgment is not based on over-protective instincts.

  29. sarah February 28, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    My daughter started using a butter knife to cut soft things like mushrooms around 18 months….I got her the montessori style vegetable choppers not too long after that. She’s worked her way up since then without mishap.

    As far when kids used to use knives, you could look at things like scout handbooks for an idea. I know that Girl Scouts used to introduce knife skills at Brownie level (which was 7-9) until the mid-70s.

  30. Jen L February 28, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    My son has had a knife since he was seven. There’s a group called Trackers Earth that does outdoor education. They did a great job of teaching my son how to safely use knives for whittling. He is very responsible with his knife and sometimes points out when *I* am not being safe with knives.

  31. Randy February 28, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    Barbara Rogoff, a psych professor at UC Santa-Cruz, has a picture of an infant sitting in front of it’s mother and cutting fruit with a machete in her book The Cultural Nature of Human Development. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of those behaviors that varies wildly by culture.

    I’d venture to say that part of the reason we’ve gotten so far away from letting children get involved with more adult-oriented activities at a younger age is because they are simply not needed in western society. In pre-industrial cultures it is important for children to start shouldering the burdens of domestic life extremely early to free up as much time as possible for the adults to hunt / fish / construct homes / make war on the neighbors.

    Our technology has allowed us to escape that need for child labor… when we want a sliced mango for breakfast we pop open a tin can of them / etc / etc. By the same token, though, there’s less need for a pre-industrial child to learn the basics of scientific reasoning, or memorize multiplication tables, or do many of the things we expect from our children.

    Without placing a value judgment on either lifestyle there’s still no denying that they’re very different and place very different kinds of demands on kids.

  32. Tom February 28, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    I would have gotten my first scout knife of my own in 1st grade, so seven or eight years old. I got the whittling achievement badge right away, so I had probably been working with borrowed knives for six months or so before that.

    The woodworking merit badge required quite a bit of tool work, including using saws and planes, but that would have been several years later. I think I joined a troop the year I turned 10, so it would have been 11 or so before I was using power tools unsupervised.

    I was born in 1961. My mother was a terrible cook, so I would have been using kitchen knives certainly by the time I started school.

    I also carried that scout knife *everywhere*, including to school, where I would have used it to cut sandwiches, sharpen my pencil, cut string for crafts, and other everyday tasks. It had two blades – one on each end – and as long as I didn’t stab anybody with it, nobody would have thought to take it from me, much less suspend or expel me from school.

    I also learned to shoot in scouts. By age 12 I’d shot rifles, pistols and shotguns under the supervision of older scouts. (16-18 year olds) By 16 i *was* one of those older scouts, teaching the younger kids how to safely handle firearms. I suspect that level of responsibility is no longer available.

    My daughter, now 14, has been working with kitchen knives for several years, though she doesn’t have terribly good skills. She’s not into woodcarving at all, and thinks guns are loud.


  33. Kate February 28, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    We started having my oldest son cut moderately soft veggies with moderately sharp kitchen knives when he was 4. Our younger son is much more focused and biddable, so he’s been cutting things with butter knives since 2 and can be trusted to cut with a sharper knife (like a moderately sharp steak knife) with supervision at 3. Neither is allowed to use a knife without supervision or anywhere but the kitchen.

    In my husband’s family, the kids received pocket knives for their 7th birthdays. They always cut themselves in the first week but then learn to follow the rules of responsible knife ownership. I think we will probably follow this tradition for our kids.

  34. Robin February 28, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    I know my grandmother began cooking for her family on a wood burning stove at age five. Granted, that was almost 80 years ago, but she was very capable, and to this day, has an incredibly high tolerance for heat!

  35. Kristi February 28, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    The most awesome presents I ever received were for my 9th Christmas…authentic Rambo knife, ninja throwing stars, a pellet gun and a machete. It had matches, a piano wire “saw”, fishing line and hook. IT WAS AMAZING! All of my cousins got one too and we roamed the woods, built an entire indian village of wigwams, and generally ran wild that summer. It was the most magical time of my life. Granted we were in one of the most rural environments imaginable, but our boundaries were “don’t cross the highway and don’t cross the railroad tracks”. That left us with 1800 acres of woods, creeks and fields to play in. We would get up early, pack a lunch and canteens and disappear for the entire day. We were expect home at dark.

    The worst injury anyone ever got was when my cousin sneaked a rock into his mudball during the “Great Mudball Wars of ’84”. My mom decided stitches weren’t needed and she superglued my forehead back together, slapped a bandaid on it and we were back in the woods in less than a hour.

    Most summers, all of my cousins and I return to the homestead with our children and even still engage in a mudball war or two! It’s just as fun at 38 as it was way back then!

    All of my children receive the Rambo knife as a 9th birthday present…even the girls!

  36. mmmwright February 28, 2011 at 2:41 am #

    The Parental Units wouldn’t give me the requested pocketknife for my confirmation in 2nd grade – so I was age 7 – because I was a girl. So about a week later I caught hell because I was outside whittling branches with the good steak knives. No pocket knives were forthcoming in our family until my BROTHER turned 10 and he got one. Apparently in the 50s boy=knife and girl=no knife. I know for a fact that both parents had knives in their childhood, because I check with THEIR parents. Never did figure out why I wasn’t allowed.

  37. Wendi Gratz February 28, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    My daughter started using a sharp knife (with supervision) at age 3. Last week I saw a kids “cookbook” that was proud to claim – in big letters on the cover – no heat and no knives. *sigh*

  38. Caro February 28, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    My son will be 2 in April and he already helps my husband cook, which includes chopping with the sharp kitchen knives. My husband holds the handle with him. When he’s strong and dexterous enough (in a year? two?) he’ll be doing it on his own under dad’s supervision.

    I was born in the late 70’s and my mom was very free range about things like letting us roam the neighborhood to our heart’s content as long as we were home before dark, but not about other things. I’m sure I didn’t handle a sharp knife till I was 12 or maybe even older. My mom was really afraid of “dangerous weapons” like knives. I didn’t even have a Swiss Army knife till I was 15, and I bought that for myself when I was studying in Switzerland.

    I did take a whittling workshop sometime in late middle or early high school.

  39. Jen Connelly February 28, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    I remember watching a documentary once (years ago) about some jungle tribe in South America. They followed around this boy until adulthood and at one point they show him at 4 years old wielding a machete while he cut wood. All while he was watching about 8 children smaller than him (ages between 1-3). He was swinging the machete around, doing his chores, while avoiding hitting any of the younger kids or cutting himself. They even mentioned in the video that this was normal for the tribe. Children began to use machetes at 3 and were expected to be chopping wood by 4 on their own.
    We started allowing our kids to use serrated steak knives at around 4 1/2. At least our son. That’s when he showed interest. We have sharper knives that he wasn’t allowed to use until he was much bigger. He tried to use one at 5 to slice a tomato for his sister (without our knowledge) and almost cut his finger off. He was lucky he just sliced it and he was embarrassed to tell us because he knew he had done something he shouldn’t have. He’s 9 now and can use that knife with supervision (I really can’t afford a trip to the ER right now).
    We do allow the kids to use the steak knives to cut their food but I was on a website last year and asked about this and most people agreed kids had to be at least 11 before using a sharp knife. I was shocked.

  40. Rachel February 28, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    I just started to teach my very eager 6.5 year old daughter how to use a kitchen knife (7″). I watch her closely, but so far, so good.

  41. David February 28, 2011 at 3:20 am #

    My grandfather gave me my first knife (one just like his) before I was one. Various family members taught me how to use it safely, and by the time I was six I was using it unsupervised. I’ve never cut myself badly, and not at all as a child.

    I think that the knife was the first potentially dangerous implement I was permitted, and being trusted to use it alone was a big step growing up, and something I was very, very proud of.

    I still have and use the same knife today, and it is associated with some very fond memories. Of course, now it doesn’t feel quite so big as it did back when I was six.

  42. Brigid Keely February 28, 2011 at 3:34 am #

    I’m 32, and I remember cooking at such a young/short age that I had to pull a chair up to the stove and stand on the chair to see into the pot and stir things. I know I was using a knife to cut cheese for sandwiches and stuff by the time I was 6. My brothers got chip’n’tote badges when they were 10-ish, I think, which gave them permission to use a hatchet for boyscout activities.

  43. Colleen Clark February 28, 2011 at 3:39 am #

    I can’t remember not using at least a butter knife, and distinctly remember when I learned to use a pocket knife – age 5, after I had picked up my father’s ever-present pocket knife from the couch where it had slide out of his pocket and proceeded to nearly cut-off the tops of 2 fingers! My father not only bandaged the fingers (having grownup on a farm the ER never entered his head) but proceeded to explain why I had cut myself. He promised to get me an appropriately sized pocket knife and teach me when my fingers healed, a promise he kept.
    With my own 3 children, far from waiting to make them wait – I feared they would find a sharp knife and try to use if to ‘be like mom’ (or dad) and not know what they should actually do. I encouraged them to watch and work with their own tools as I cooked. A few band-aids was all I ever needed as they learned. Much less traumatic than my experience.

  44. This girl loves to talk February 28, 2011 at 3:54 am #

    my four year old loves to chop cucumber. She uses a steak knife to do it. Funny how older kids lose the desire to *help in the kitchen* but if I insist my 10 and 8 year olds also chop tomatoes, carrots etc. I’ve never used a pocket knife, so I’ve never really taught my kids (dont think it is as popular in australia as it seems to be in the US) but maybe I should…

  45. Curt February 28, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    My son was taught knife safety sklls asa as a Cub Scout circa 1st grade so it’s not inconceiveable that a four year old could be taught how to use kitchen knives safely & properly. The important things for _anyone_ who is using cutting tools (axes, hatchets, saws, knives, even scissors) are to know that these are tools, not toys, and to have respect for the safety rules.

  46. Sky February 28, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    I think it depends on the fine motor skills of the particular child, but it’s a rare child that will have the dexterity to handle a sharp knife consistently safely before the age of 6.

    I think anywhere from 6 – 10 would be a reasonable time to start using sharp knives unsupervised. As far as cutting and spreading with *plastic* or butter knives, I think that could start anywhere from 2-4 and should be fully mastered by 5.5.

  47. Amy February 28, 2011 at 4:12 am #

    I can’t remember a time when my brother and I did not have pocket knives at our disposal and I was born in 1967. Also, I have a book on the history of quilting that talks about how in colonial America kids learned to use a needle and thread almost at the same time they learned to walk. There was also a photo of a full sized patchwork quilt sewn by a 7 year old boy in the late 1700’s. That’s not knives, but still, can you imagine any parent today handing a needle and thread to a two year old (or a 7 year old, in many cases)?

  48. Jennifer Jo February 28, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    We lived in Nicaragua for several years. Our four-year-old neighbor boy was often seen walking around with a machete half his size.

    My children (5, 7, 9, 11) are building a fort. The older two use drills, hammers, handsaws, pocketknives, and my oldest uses a machete, too.

  49. Joy February 28, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    I was surprised my first visit to a German Kindergarten when a small boy (probably about 4) came up to me with a metal wood file. My natural American mindset made me want to pull it out of his hands (“what is such a small boy doing with a real tool!”), but then I saw that there was a woodworking table setup for the kids, including real working tools like saws. This for kids ages 3 to 6. The teachers are not hovering over them while they use the tools, though of course they will help them if needed. My 5 year old loved that woodworking table and wishes we had one at home.

  50. Kathryn February 28, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Our seven year old got a Gerber Multi-tool/knife for Christmas the year.

  51. Laura V. February 28, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    my dad gave me a pocket knife when i was about 8 or 9, and then took it away after i misused it (threatening my friend with a dull knife while playing). my boys, 6 & 8 at the time, both got their whittling chips at cub scout day camp this summer and help my husband chop things for meals (he’s the cook).

  52. catya February 28, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    If you look around you can still find “steak knives” (sharp table knives) with blunt tips + serrated blades. That’s what I started my son on when he was little…

  53. Kimberly February 28, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    A properly sharpened knife is safer than a dull knife. I had some dexterity problems, so I didn’t get a knife til I was in double digits.

    I had a student bring a pocket knife to school by accident (been camping the weekend before). We locked it up and called the parent. He didn’t get in trouble at school, he did get in trouble with Dad. (If the bus driver had discovered the knife, punishment would be out of my principal’s hands. That is why we had Dad come to school to get the knife.

    Friday I had a student bring some martial art training tools to school. These were foam covered, but the student is very impulsive. I could see him bopping someone on the head with them and getting suspended from school or sent to alternative campus because transportation tends to do that. So I called mom and she arranged for him to be picked up instead of riding the bus. (He would have to cross a 5 lane, 50 MPH, highway with no crossing guard, and walk down a 2 lane, torn up, no shoulder, barely room for 2 cars road to get home. (I’m taking a 5 min detour during the destruction/expansion because I’m afraid that an SUV/Large pickup’s side mirrors are going to smack my windshield on this 2 lane road.)

  54. zoedawn February 28, 2011 at 4:47 am #

    I’m 24. I grew up playing with machetes and pocket knifes. Don’t ever recall my mom being worried about such things. I now have two children (3 and 1). When the oldest was two, I introduced her to a paring knife and a mushroom. She is great with her hands. Has wonderful hand-eye coordination and I’m sure it’s in part due to the fact that I gave her knives and scissors and pins to play with. She’s still too young to be trusted completely with sharp things but as long as you are smart about it, kids are usually quite adept at using such tools. Everybody just needs to RELAX.

  55. Sera February 28, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    Well, there’s knives and there’s knives.

    I mean, the serrated steak knives pretty much any kid could use as soon as they’ve got the dexterity to hold them and cut. They aren’t particularly slashy or stabby, and it would be hard for the kid to actually give itself anything more than a light cut. I would go so far as to say that said cuts would be a very important lesson for the kid before it moves on to sharper knives.

    A real kitchen knife, though, with a straight and sharp blade? Not until about 7 or 8 at least, and only then if the kid is both dexterous and careful. Adults cut themselves with those often enough, and smaller children just don’t have the fine motor control to mitigate the damage they do to themselves if they slip, and kids are prone to rushing and a lack of foresight…

  56. Anna February 28, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    My eldest uses a small peeling knife for cutting soft vegetables and fruit like mushrooms, zucchini, bananas. We started teaching him that when he was round 3, and he turns 4 in April. He’s quite savvy peeling apples too. He knows that he’ll be allowed to use bigger knives to cut (literally) harder stuff once he’s older, *if* he handles the little knife properly. And, of course, no waving or pointing with the knife. Definitely no running around with it, and always put it down before moving to get more stuff to cut. He takes great pride in his little knife and being helpful in the kitchen 🙂 He’s only got one or two minor cuts ever.

  57. Debbie Lindsay February 28, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    Perhaps read the ‘Continuum Concept’ (http://www.continuum-concept.org/).

    I watched a documentary a few years ago that illustrated 3 styles of child rearing and this was one of them. One of the theories was that you should let your children grasp adult concept to learn. There were toddlers, not yet walking properly or talking cutting their lunch with sharp knives.

    I’ve been trying to find footage from the BBC documentary but to no avail – if anyone can locate it, it’s a handy link to see what children are capable of.

    As another note: I don’t entirely agree with everything involved in the Continuum Concept – but this section was certainly interesting food for thought

  58. Felicity St John February 28, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    I recommend Barbara Rogoff’s “The Cultural Nature of Human Development”. She goes into the age children use knives, playing in “dangerous” environments without injuries, and sibling care.

    There’s a photo of an infant using a machete – I think it’s in her book. Here’s a link to the photo:

    That book really changed my perspectives in parenting and child care.

  59. David C February 28, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    I’m 51. My grandfather gave me my first pocketknife when I was about 8, and taught me all the “rules” for having one. If I recall correctly, my mother had a bit of a fit about it, but it was a fait accompli by that point.
    I gave my son his first knife when he was about 8. Of course, that being 1995, he couldn’t take his to school like I did. I don’t recall exactly how old my daughter was when I gave her the first one, but I’m sure she was close to the same age.
    Those who say “it depends on the kid” are probably right.

  60. Hilary February 28, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    I’m so glad you asked this, because I have been wondering myself! I am kind of phobic about sharp knives; probably as a result my kids (12 and 8) are nervous about using them on their own, even with my encouragement. And I really want to know when a kid is old enough to cut a bagel, which is a big source of injury even for adults!

  61. Hilary February 28, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    That’s 12 and eight … not 12 and 8. 🙂

  62. Samantha February 28, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    An interesting and timely post as I grappled with whether or not I should allow my seven-year-old to cut up vegetables with a sharp(er) knife while preparing dinner recently.

    I gave in to my common sense which dictated that she is an intelligent child who knows the blade is sharp (it was a paring knife), and would proceed accordingly. I of course oversaw her while she chopped and all was well in the end.

    Kids have to be given the opportunity to learn as soon as they are able to comprehend the task at hand. Sheltering them unnecessarily just sets them up to be over-cautious and lacking in confidence in later situations, when it really will count.

  63. Dawn in Vancouver February 28, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    My son used a butter knife from 1-3 to cut things. Mostly steamed and soft veggies. At around 3.5 I gave him his first sharp knife to help me with dinner. We started with bell peppers. He is also good at cutting, cucumber and zucchini, apples into strips, cauliflower off the stock, and slicing banana’s. We’ve had a close call or two, but I’m always by his side as he’s cutting. I keep an eye where his other hand is, and am doing reminders about how to do things properly. The thing he forgets the most is putting the knife down when he’s not cutting anymore…but we are working on it.

  64. thinkbannedthoughts February 28, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    I had my first real swiss army knife at age 8 and took it EVERYWHERE with me (yes, even to school – it wasn’t a weapon in 1987). But I was cooking in the kichen with my parents well before that and using real, sharp knives to do so. (the blender too, which for me has always been more scary than a single knife…)
    When I went to Asia I saw many children as young as 3 and 4 carrying large machetes into fields, and around town to work with their parents. (Turns out they are a great tool for getting coconuts open.) When my husband was in Nicaragua he saw the same thing, children about 3-4 years old working with machetes, cooking over open flames with their parents, using real kitchen knives, etc.
    So, to answer your real question, yes, Lenore, Americans are also becoming wussies about this issue.
    On a brighter note, a few of us still remember the good old days.
    My 7 year old daughter has her own pocket knife. She’s only allowed to have it when we’re camping or when she’s whittling in the backyard and she still has to be within eye sight of us.
    Our 5 year old doesn’t have her own knife yet, but she does use sharp knives in the kitchen with me when we cook together. She’s not as interested as her sister was, but when she’s ready we’ll make sure she knows the rules and supervise her the first few times she uses her pocket knife and then let her have her own as well.

  65. EV February 28, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    I have two children. Our boys received their knives as a present on their 9th birthdays. I’m a Montessori guide and our children have been using knives since the age of 3.

    I did want to share a post when the power of the knife came to our youngest, now 12. (Why should I type it again?) I can not tell you how often our oldest has saved the day by whipping out his Swiss Army knife to deal with a problem or how learning how to sharpen a knife has brought patience and observation to our younger child.


  66. KLY February 28, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    I applaud the people who put up that original article and stood their ground publicly when people went insane about it.

    I’ve been letting my daughter use a butter knife since she could hold it (which means we started out with less-heavy plastic knives). I’ve let help me chop simple things since she was very young (it was before kindergarten, I know that), and let her cut her own meat on her plate since she showed the ability to do so without accidentally flinging the side dishes across the table (we used a small side dish while working up to that… I admit I was tired of getting hit with vegetables when things ‘slipped’) or I would partially cut it so she could more easily cut bite sizes.

    I am really big on cooking from scratch and about food being a central part of the family (preparing it together, eating together at the table, etc.), and I believe my daughter should learn the skills needed to continue this herself. Now, I admit my own knife skills are more efficient than fancy, but I’ve been helping prep in the kitchen since I was fairly young, too. (Honestly, I always scraped myself more with that freakin’ potato peeler than I ever cut myself with a knife. Probably explains my preference for skin-on potatoes.)

    Just the other day, I had my daughter come help me in the kitchen. I haven’t been able to do a lot of involved cooking with her lately (getting over some health issues), so it had been a little while since she’d fixed dinner with me. We’re working on specific technique, now; in this case, it was dicing potatoes as opposed to just chopping. She was doing great, but it made me so sad when she said “No one else lets me use knives like this.” Apparently, she still does not get to help/cook at all at her father’s, and while she does when she is at his parents’ house, her Nana “freaks out” if she sees her using a kitchen knife. She told me she’s fine until someone starts freaking out, and then it freaks her out, too. She’s 11 (and a half). In spite of the fact that she *has* cooked full meals for them, they still refuse to believe she’s completely capable of doing this sort of thing. I keep trying to tell them she’s been doing it since she was five or six, at least!

    I personally believe that it is best to start kids when they are young. Younger kids tend to be very deliberate about doing tasks, when they are learning. Having volunteered in the art room with kids of all ages, I worried much less about random careless accidents with the K and 1st classes than I did with the older grades. Now, it takes some patience, because sometimes they are *very* slow (and lord knows I could *still* probably get dinner ready faster on my own), but the point is to teach them, and letting them take their time is a necessary part of that. I have heard so many moms say they just don’t have the patience and it is “easier to do it themselves”, along with not wanting to “deal with the extra mess/hassle” that sometimes goes along with children learning new skills. I find that sad.

    I’m also confused by people who will let a child use a fork but not a butter knife. Forks are, really, much pokier. OOps… I’d better watch saying that… there will be even more people who only let their children use a spoon right up until they start school (it happens).

  67. KLY February 28, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Oh, and Kristi… your adventures with your cousins sound just like mine with my family. We, however, never got the ultra-cool Rambo set. We had to improvise. Heh.

  68. PSeiler February 28, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    There’s a shift in knife use in Canada- and it’s not good. My son is 9 and his cub scout troop is pretty common sense. They have a “Kub Kar” project where the boys get a block of wood to shape into a car; they have Swiss army knives at camp to whittle. He has a cousin in a different troop in a neighbouring community: they drew their designs on their cars with a pencil and then “a man took them away to chisel them” and on the last camp with a different troop they couldn’t cut and sharpen marshmallow roasting sticks because the other boys weren’t allowed to have knives. 🙁

  69. rhodykat February 28, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    My 2.5 year old gets a butter knife to cut her meal with supervision. She holds it properly and uses it in the correct manner, although she can’t always successfully cut (she is still learning pressure, etc.). I think the guideline with all my kids is when they have the motor skills to handle the task – my 7 year old cuts vegetables for the salad with the bigger knives and helps me prep for supper, I know she had a knife at the dinner table at 4. My 5 year old still needs help with his table knife, so I wouldn’t think of letting him use the big knives.

  70. pebblekeeper February 28, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Both of our boys were pretty young when they started collecting pocket knives. I have a video of my youngest at age 2 making his home made blackberry jam, scooping butter out of the container to slather the bread with. I got him a rocking knife as he was so interested in cooking so young. Now he can make full meals, and it is a wonderful gift. He’s 10. They both collect pocket knives – it is very handy to always have a pocket knife. My oldest went though a scout like safety course and then did do the scout course. My youngest just seems to walk along with us. They both had a really in depth lesson on the stone last year 9 an 12. They had been shown before, but usually preferred dad’s quick sharpening skills. A dull knife is a dangerous knife.

  71. Tuppence February 28, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Germany calling (re. international response). At my daughter’s Kindergarten (children 3-6 yrs old) the teacher insisted lunch (a hot meal) be eaten with a fork and knife. I always thought it was simply an issue of not wanting the kids to eat with their fingers, but after reading some of the responses here, I realize it probably had to do with teaching children manual dexterity. And needless to say, my daughter learned to cut her food very nicely.

    I recall an episode of the German version of “Super Nanny” where, amongst the general chaos of a family meal (something like baby crying, another kid climbing on table etc etc), the father was cutting things up at the dinner table and his little boy asked if he could try the knife. The father said sure, and gave it to the kid. The super nanny observed this and asked the father what he meant by simply handing off a sharp knife to his young child. The man said he wanted his kid to learn how to handle real things like knifes. The super nanny’s reply was: I think that an excellent idea, and I agree with you. But he needs to learn how to use it properly, so take a minute and don’t be distracted by everything else going on, and show him the right way to use it first.
    I approved.
    Since I’ve never really watched it, I don’t know — would the s.nanny in the American version respond similarly?

  72. LEA February 28, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Well by three all mine had pretty much mastered the butter knife. It wasn’t a choice it just was. I won’t do something for my kids they can do themselves and spreading jelly or cutting a sandwich in half is certainly something they could do. They started working with steak knives around three for cutting food on plates and by five all of them had used regular kitchen knives and a cutting board. They hadn’t all mastered them but they had all tried them out. They are 5, 8, 10, 17 and all free to use kitchen knives for cutting and chopping foods. The youngest does need permission and supervision still . My oldest is not a kitchen person and is not great with cutting and chopping food but she’s pretty good with a pocket knife. The 10 year old got his first pocket knife about six month ago or so. He has his own hand tools and toolbox as well :).

  73. Sarah February 28, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    I have 6 kids and they all learn from a very young age how to handle a knife. I allow them a small butter knife for cutting soft food at dinner as soon as they show an interest (even at age 1) and then when they have the manual dexterity and control, teach them how to safely use a paring knife to cut cheese, and how to saw with a serrated edge knife, etc. My 2 year old can help cut apples for apple pie, etc with a sharp paring knife and my 5yo up can use a steak knife with dinner. On things with bones we generally cut for them – since there’s a little more finesse required.
    The main thing is just keep an eye and correct them when they’re using improperly until they learn. I would rather they learn things supervised than try them on their own for the first time when i’m not around. We also teach them to light (and extinguish) fires, such as matches, etc.

  74. bmj2k February 28, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    It simply depends on the child’s dexterity and motor skills, maturity, etc. While I’m sure no one is giving a new-born a knife (I hope!) this is up to the parent.

  75. Iain D February 28, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    My son is six and I’ve been teaching him knife skills in the kitchen for a little while now. He definitely understands that “if you do this wrong, it will hurt a lot” and takes his time when slicing.
    So far he’s shown very good technique, and my main worry is him getting over confident. I stay close, and let him do it. I’m not too worried about a little cut, I’m more concerned about him losing a finger, hence my close supervision.

    To answer the subject more directly, I’ve seen Inuit carvings of little kids (5-6 at most) licking knives.

  76. Silver Fang February 28, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I carried a pocket knife around with me in junior high and high school. I wasn’t dumb enough to flash it around in school though.

  77. anidledad February 28, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    A child can use pretty much any sized kitchen knife by four. Supervised, of course – though my 100% supervision dropped off pretty rapidly – often I’m across the kitchen stiring a pot or something while the 4yo makes a salad.

    The plus is, my daughter is far more likely to eat a salad she’s cut up herself!

  78. KLY February 28, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Hahaha! I have to supervise mostly to make sure that my daughter doesn’t eat everything *before* it goes in the salad!

  79. Dauber February 28, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    This comes at an interesting time for me. I have a group of Girl Scouts and want them to go to a program that teaches camping skills including knife safety and use a grill. This has made a couple of the moms a little worried. I’m still taking whoever wants to go.

  80. Catherine Scott February 28, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Anthropological studies show that in traditional societies children use tools such as knives from very early in life. I am seeing in my mind’s eye an actual real photo of a baby barely at walking age in some Pacific island society using a machete on a coconut. A terrifying prospect for a society that thinks that kids can’t even wait outside school to be picked up by their parents when they are 15 years old. The photo was in Barbara Rogoff’s ‘The cultural nature of human development’.

    In traditional societies children are/were taught the proper use of tools and then allowed to use them. Parents weren’t fussed about leaving tools around, because they knew children could be trusted to use them responsibly, or leave them alone as appropriate.

    I know from my own parenting experience that when kids are taught to do something and allowed to it as necessary it becomes routine and not something they are likely to be pushing the limits on.

  81. Bee February 28, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I was a child in the 90s, and I had a small pocket knife that I used for cutting rope and stripping twigs at summer camp. So I was 8 or 9.

    I’m pretty sure my mom taught me how to use a knife to cut vegetables when I was in grade school, but I don’t remember how old I was–but it was pre-pocket knife.

    I learned the hard way when I was 11 to make sure I cut away from myself. Two stitches in my thumb and a tetanus shot (and my dad doing the same thing about a week later) cemented that lesson. Sometimes you just gotta let things happen in order to learn.

  82. lyle f bogart February 28, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    I started my kids using a sharp paring knife with a 4″ blade at age 4; my daughter, now 8 1/2 years old, does quite well with an 8″ chef’s knife slicing apples, carrots, and the like; my 5 year old son is quite safe with the 4″ blade.
    When I was a kid (gad! I feel old when I say that!) I was taught to split wood with a hatchet at age 6, had my own whittling knife at age 7 (which I always brought to school and would spend at least part of every recess period whittling!).
    I do not “protect” my children from sharp objects; I protect them from injury from sharp objects by teaching them how to correctly use such objects.

  83. john malpas February 28, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    I had a combined knife from scouts about age 11 – this was 1946 0r so. The notable thing was that it had a spike which we were assured was to take stones out of horses hooves. Not that this ever happened.

  84. Grimalkin February 28, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    I grew up in Switzerland where knife use is pretty ubiquitous. I was camping with my parents as a baby and our “camping knife” (useful because of a hammer hilt for nailing in tent pegs, even though the blade itself is now so old and dull that it’s main use is cutting cheese and salami for lunch!) was passed around pretty liberally.

    I remember in first or second grade, we were instructed to bring our pocket knives into class because we would be going into the woods to collect samples for a “nature presentation” (leaves, branches, that sort of thing) and knives would be used to cut twigs and such.

    My personal opinion is that it should depend on the child. You want to wait until you notice that your child has enough control over his movements that he’s going to be able to control a blade. You can also start off with duller knives and then move up to sharper/pointier blades when they’ve demonstrated that they can handle it.

  85. brenna February 28, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Personally I realy think it depends on the individual child. I would concider how much they pay attention, how careful they are & their skill level. My son was really good with forks, spoons & scissors early, but still not ready for a knife with out suprivison.

  86. Jo February 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    I teach Food Science and Hospitality in High School and am amazed at how many kids can’t use a knife competently.
    My kids were given a dinner knife from the time they were able to feed themselves.
    I allow both my 3 and 6 year old to use a sharp knife under supervision. I have told them that it is sharp and taught them to use the knife correctly, They know how to use the knife independently. My goal is for all my kids to feel competent to prepare a simple meal independently by the time they are in 6th class. Using a knife is a basic skill they need to do this.

  87. SK February 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    As a young mom 19 years ago I didn’t let my oldest anywhere near the kitchen. Wish I had she still can’t cook. My son who’s only two years younger found a way in to the kitchen much younger and is well on his way to becoming a Chief. My middle girls Where 6 or 7 before they got to use a knife.

    However my youngest is always at my side. When working in the kitchen she wants to help. She was 2 when I gave her her first “knife”. It’s got the handle on the top of the blade. She still uses it at 5, but I have started letting her use kitchen knifes. To help slice, and dice. So far no problems with her. My older ones whom I didn’t teach to use a knife till much older are always cutting themselves. My now 5 year old hasn’t and is faster and safer than the 12 year old. Some of it might be personality but some of it is very much the courage I had with each child and the time I had to work one on one with each one.

    On knifes my son took a knife to a park day at 12 and other kids freaked out and came to tell me my son had a pocket knife and seemed confused when I simply said is he hurting anything? And they said No, so I said then it’s ok.

  88. BeQui February 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Tom, I just want to reassure you that the older scouts still teach the younger ones. When my brother was 15-18 (about 5 years ago), he worked at a scout camp at Bear Lake on the border of Utah and Idaho. He’d go up Sunday night, and come home Friday night for 3 months. (He only made $75 a week! Doesn’t that break some sort of child labor law? 😉 ) He had various jobs, but 2 I remember were teaching cubs how to climb a rock wall, and supervising the rifle range. All the supervisors/teachers were scouts, and all the cooks were teenage girls.

    I hadn’t even thought of teaching my daughter to use knives. She’s 2.5, and tomorrow I’ll see what happens when I give her a banana and a butter knife. Of course I’ll show her how to use it, first. I like the ideas of practicing with playdough, and using nylon knives.

    I asked my husband how he feels about her using a knife and he said, “Are you kidding?! She’s so clumsy, she almost fell off my lap today! And she was just SITTING there!” When I clarified I meant butter knives, he said, “Oh, yeah, that would be fine.”

    It’s funny, because the more I think about it, the more I realize she has very good hand-eye coordination. She can build block towers taller than her head, and when she colors on lined paper, she’s very deliberate and is able to stay in the lines. She makes these tiny little drawings, not big random movements. I’ll keep track of her progress and get back to you, if you’d like.

  89. Crystal February 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    I think it depends on fine motor skills. A regular dinner table knife? Maybe 3-4? My daughter is 2, and is strugglng with her fork. I’d like to see her master that first. Steak knife? Once I see a regular table knife mastered…

    But I love to cook and if E is interested in learning to cook, I’ll be handing her more sharp knives as time goes on. I think I held a sharp knife at 7 or 8 for the first time. E might be younger as I’m far more into cooking than my mom or grandma was.

  90. Sean February 28, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    My daughters (now 6 and 9) have both operated power tools under my supervision. And yes, they can operate a pen knife. The oldest asked me if she could borrow mine when she was around 5. I asked what for, she told me, and I said ‘here it is’.

    They also need to cut stuff when cooking. At 5 or so, I would limit usage to smaller ‘steak’ knives. 🙂

  91. AW February 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    My kids have gradually learned how to use kifes. They’ve both started to use plastic knifes and forks at one or two, as well as “helping” us cook, by cutting bananas and other soft food with plastic knifes. They’ve started using regular knifes and forks at 3, and have been allowed to use regular kitchen knifes to prepare food.
    We teach them that knifes (as well as many other tools) can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Eating properly, like most activities, takes practice.
    My son who’s 7 have also learned to use hunting knifes, saws, axes and other dangerous tools, he’s aware that it might be dangerous, knows to call for help and knows not to leave dangerous tools laying around.
    My three year old daughter will probably learn how to use a saw this summer.

  92. Kim February 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    We use these with my 6 year old:

    the spork

    my safe cutter

    We also learned about knife safety with jackknives at Girl Scouts outdoor skills.

  93. Kenny Felder February 28, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    The cub scouts do this very well. They have a whole process you go through to get your “whittling chip,” along with certain safety rules that you memorize and demonstrate. If you violate those rules, you lose the whittling chip.

    The details are not important to me. What’s important about the “whittling chip” is that it conveys are certain seriousness about the whole thing–there’s some ceremony around it–getting a knife is not like getting a rubber ball. It’s a bit of a rite of passage, to be looked forward to anxiously for a while, and then taken very seriously when you have it.

  94. Pablo February 28, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    Hi. I live in Spain and I have an almost three year old. She already uses plastic and serrated metal knives without supervision (we are in the dinner table with her but we don’t play close attention to what she is doing with the knife). She also uses small kitchen knives occasionally but always under direct supervision.

  95. Sara A. February 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    I have clear memories of making omelets by myself at 8 and selected dinners around that time too.

    I also have clear memories of my mom getting in a fight with my friend’s mom because we were hungry shortly before dinner and she’d handed each of us a carrot and a peeler for a snack. I think we were somewhere around 4 or 5. I remember being really competent with knives in the kitchen by 8 to the point when my mom would direct me to peel and chop an onion for dinner without a second thought. She also attempted to teach me to sew at around 5 or 6, so I guess, knives started pretty early with me.

    She also let me start taking the city bus by myself in the seventh grade, just from school home and just a few miles- never leaving Staten Island. I was born in 1985 so this wasn’t that long ago.

  96. david February 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    is awesome,
    i’d say generally age 6 based on hand abilities but some kids as early as my Liv at three used a kitchen knife regularly montessori kids ( mine) as early as 3 kitchen 4 for whittling because of dexterity

  97. Lola February 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    International response here. In Madrid (Spain), there’s not much of a penknife culture. For first-time parents, our school advises on particular goals kids should achieve around certain ages. They told us that by age 6-7, they are expected at school to cut their own food properly at lunch.
    At home, I let them start with butter knives and soft food at about age 2 (when they start asking for them), and we evolve from that as I see fit.
    Many parents I know don’t allow their 7yo to cut their own steaks, but I’ve witnessed it’s just a matter of getting things started. When we meet other families to dine out, they see my kids manage, their kids ask to be allowed too, and the ball starts rolling.

  98. Tara February 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    My son was about 8 when he earned his first pocket knife in Boy Scouts. I only panicked a tiny bit and explained to him that he’d have to demonstrate complete safety when using it, especially around his brothers, if he intended on keeping it. He’s had one almost major accident with it which resulted in a lot of blood, three freaked out siblings but no stitches. 🙂

    Also, Pampered Chef sells a “kid safe” knife. It’s a serrated knife which I let the kids use to chop the things I would normally have them use a table knife for. I figure by making it special they’ll treat it with more respect and learn a healthy respect for knives. My just barely four year old used it to chop up a stick of butter the other day. (Yes, she’s the one who I let “free range” the library to check out her own books.) 🙂

  99. Jules February 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    I think at a pre-school age they should start learning how to spread with a not-sharp knife (things like peanut butter and butter). My kindergartener is starting to use a steak knife with help now, he should be mastering that skill soon. Things like chopping an onion…sometime in late grade school, I would guess, but that’s also based on culinary interest. My third grader knows how to cut a cantelope and things like that. Small dicing, not so much.

  100. Mompetition February 28, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

    Depends on the knife I guess. Both my son and daughter cut with a butter knife (bananas, breads, pastas, grapes, apples, stuff like that). They are 2.5 and I hope to introduce them to a sharp knife by 6 (at the dinner table).
    We’ll see what their maturity is like then.

  101. DEHausfrau February 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    My daughter has been learning knife skills in preschool since she was 3 (they start them off with plastic knives). She just turned 5 and I have no problem giving her a paring knife or a steak knife to cut things. I also let her use real, not safety scissor after a discussion about how to carry and hand-off sharp objects. Her teacher had told me that she was struggling with cutting skills in school – well, it seems the problem was the safety scissors because she can cut just fine at home!

  102. RobynHeud February 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    I agree with previous posts that it depends on the child and there’s a large range for what’s normal. My brother got his first pocketknife when he was 9 or 10 and cut himself so many times my dad joked he should have gotten him a box of band-aids as well. I took it from him since he was tired of getting cut, and at age 7, only cut myself once before being able to handle it effieciently.

  103. Douglas John Bowen February 28, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    My son began using a pocket knife regularly at age 6, and he’s probably cut himself less often since then than I have! It depends on the individual, of course, and the observations above probably apply properly to each person’s child (or children) in question. My son can be alarmingly unfocused when it comes to some tasks, but with knives and sharp objects, he appears to focus and concentrate. I’ve little fear for his safety on this score. Nor for the children mentioned above; unless I missed something in the comments above, I don’t see any fatalities mentioned!

  104. BMS February 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Each of my boys received a swiss army knife on their 8th birthday, followed by a lesson in knife safety, followed by earning their whittling chip badges in cub scouts. Now, it is a tool like any other.

    Of course, I am the mom who let her kids at 5 years of age use the electric screw driver and hand saws too. My currently 10 year old son has pretty much stolen my husband’s new Dremel tool. He puts on his goggles, clamps his work in the vise, and goes to town. Yes, he has to ask Dad first, and usually one of us is in the vicinity. But he knows how to handle himself around tools, because we let him learn early.

  105. Carla February 28, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    We had some disagreement with my husband about when to introduce knives, but one day my 4.5 yr old was insistent she had to help cook, so up she went on the stepstool and I gave her a quick lesson on how to cut with a small paring knife. She did poke her finger once or twice that time but has never cut herself. She had been using a kid’s knife or a platic knife to cut soft things like mushrooms since she was three, but the sharp ones only came out at 4.5 yrs. old. She now cuts tofu, all manner of vegetables, including carrots and is very helpful. The challenge is that her 2.5 yr old sister also wants to do the same. So, perhaps as per the usual second-child-syndrome, she has started earlier with knives, she is still using only a serrated knife for soft things. Still no one has cut themself. I think that cutting and being self-sufficient with food is a crucial life skill.

  106. Ian Harris March 1, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    The scars on the dining room chairs remain as evidence that my almost-4 year old was not ready for the responsibility of wielding a butter-knife at the time.

    He’s almost 5 now, and is trusted with all sorts of knives to set the table, spread butter on bagels at breakfast, and more importantly how to hold and pass a sharp knife so as to lessen the risk to himself and others.

    Cooking is part of our daily routine, so he often uses ‘adult’ knives in a supervised environment.

    Perhaps I’ll let him cut his 5th Birthday Cake with an adult knife this Friday to see how he does in public.

  107. Denise Shea March 1, 2011 at 12:38 am #

    My parents grew up in Portugal. My mother, who was nine, had to use knives to cut (by hand) feed for the chickens. Better yet, her four-year-old brother had the same task. Needless to say, my mom’s pretty good with a knife.

  108. jim March 1, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    @john malpas – check out a decent cutlery/ military surplus store for a US Navy issue “bosun’s knife.” It’s a fairly large one-blade pocketknife which also has a locking marlinspike for untying knots. Never used mine to get a rock out of a hoof but I found a lot of other uses for.

    Anyway, my dad was the town butcher/ meatpacker so I grew up with large, sharp expensive knives. Kinda like asking a mechanic’s kid when he first used a wrench. I do remember that in early grade school I had to buy my dad a new pocketknife for his birthday every year because I had lost the one he had loaned me for whittling.

    Know I’ve told this story before while talking about school “zero tolerance.” In my small-town high school in the early 70s, it was a running joke that several teachers would occasionally ask “Does anyone have a knife?” and ALL of the boys and several of the girls would whip out and click open razor-sharp 4″ Buck and Old Timer folders. Fistfights? Sure, we had those all the time. Stabbings? NEVER.

  109. Kelly Erickson March 1, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    My son Austin (almost age 9) had a Cub Scout meeting recently where the grandfather of one of the boys taught whittling. They kids were also taught proper knife skills and earned their Boy Scout pocket knife. It was a very proud and exciting moment for Austin.

    I forwarded your this article to my husband who attended that meeting w/ our son because I thought he’d find it interesting. His comments:

    “As we were watching ‘The Patriot’ last night, I was thinking about how young the boys were that the lead character played by Mel Gibson takes to attack the British and rescue the eldest. I bet the youngest was about Austin’s age.

    Knives (and guns) are just tools. Life used to require younger children to WORK with tools for the family to survive. Restricting knife use is a modern luxury…and probably a bad idea.”

  110. bequirox March 1, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    My dad used to be a butcher, and one thing he taught me was NEVER try to catch a knife you drop. I know it sounds like common sense, but your reflexes might try to get you to catch it. DON’T DO IT!

    Make sure your kids know this!

  111. msmama March 1, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    I started giving my son a knife with dinner as soon as I started giving him his own spoon and fork – so somewhere between 6 and 9 months.

    Frankly, I think for small kids forks are just as dangerous and no one thinks to teach “fork skills.”

  112. Susan March 1, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    Hmmm. I grew up on a farm, and using knives and other sharp tools was a part of normal everyday life. I think I had a little jackknife when I was about 7 or 8. I used sharp kitchen knives also from around the same age.

    I also used a hatchet when I was a little older (sometimes without consent!) but this was probably a bad idea as I almost chopped the end of my finger off with it when I was about 10 or 11. (Which I then proceeded to disinfect and bandage on my own, without telling my parents what I’d done, since of course I was not supposed to be chopping things with the hatchet unsupervised!) Good thing I had my tetanus shot!

  113. Jeremy Smith March 1, 2011 at 1:52 am #

    When asked what she wanted to do while she was four, on my daughter’s fourth birthday she answered: “Read and learn how to use knives.” We’re starting slowly with fairly safe serrated steak knives, but for us the answer is four.

    My son was 8.5 when he got his first pocketknife and he’s been pretty responsible with it, although he uses the screwdrivers 10x as much as the blades.

  114. Uly March 1, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    I know it sounds like common sense, but your reflexes might try to get you to catch it. DON’T DO IT!

    My grandmother once caught a knife she’d dropped. She knew better, but when she saw it falling she reached out and grabbed it. Apparently, as her hand closed around the blade her only thought was “That was stupid.”

    Had to have stitches and lost some use of that hand for a while.

  115. Sean March 1, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    When I was about 6 (back in 1997), I remember using a knife, much like in the video, to prepare salads. Mainly lettuce and bell peppers. I remember being surprised later on when I was about 10, to find out that a kid at daycare wasn’t allowed to cut his own fruit for lunch.

  116. EricS March 1, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Back sometime in the early 70s, when I was 6, I was taught how to cook. Which included using a gas oven (that would also include lighting a match, or using a lighter), as well as a knife. One of the first things I learned was how to dice onions and tomatoes. At about 9, I asked my mother how to sew and mend. So she showed me how to use the sewing machine, and threading a needle. She did forget to mention about the thimble. But I quickly learned how to mend without them. I was patching my own clothes at that time. I made my first halloween costume from scratch when I was 12. I also learned how to drive a car by the time I was 14.

    I’m not sure about stats on when children started using knives or stone tools. But what I do know, is that even during the times of Neanderthals, when their children were old enough to stand and understand what was being said to them, they were taught the ways of survival. Which included tool making, using of the various tools at their disposal. As humans evolved to what we are now, and we started being more cultured. Cooking meat, making clothing, farming, etc… When the children (males) were too young to go off hunting, they stayed with the women and girls. In which the women taught them how to skin animals, preserve and cook meat, even to sew. But when they got older – I’m guessing based on the 1800s when by the time males were old enough to stand and carry buckets (probably around 6 or 7) they were already put to work on the farm – the male adults took them out to hunt. Gotta love Discovery Channel and Nat Geo. lol

    So in short, children started at a pretty young age doing what most won’t do till they are in their teens. So it’s not the age, or even time. It’s how the parents raised them. Mind you, IMO, it was much harder back then to live than it is now. Mortality rate was about 100 times more back then than it is now.

    And back then, there were more common place dangers than we do now. Especially wild animals. Hell, their back yard was the wilderness. Not to mention the civil unrest between natives and pioneers. A conflict between them is far more likely to happen than a complete stranger taking your kid from you. Yet people back then endured. Didn’t change the way they lived. In reality, that way of living was THE way of living till only a few decades ago. When people started making paranoia part of their daily lives.

  117. Beth March 1, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    my boys are currently age 8 (almost 9) and just 16….they both started using a pocket knife around age 7ish….

  118. Samane March 1, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    I agree with letting your child lead you into this, to an extent. I think by the time they’re ready to go off to elementary school, they should know how to use a paring and steak knife. But I live in a semi-rural community, and remember some kids in my class (of a whole whopping 25) getting taken out for the first two days of hunting season, in 2nd grade. These kids shot guns and helped skin deer. And managed to not kill themselves. My dad taught me gun safety, and how to shoot when I was 13, with a .22 rifle and a .357 magnum. I’m now almost 22, and due with my first child in September, whom will probably be taught to use a lathe (from his dad), ride a mini bike (from his dad’s dad), and shoot a gun (from my dad) as soon as possible. As for me, I look forward to teaching my child to mix acid to etch plates for printing, and how to properly handle oil paints. I’m also a horrible mom already; I drink coffee and eat sushi while pregnant. Gasp!

  119. Kate March 1, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Five year olds in the hills of Jamaica carry machetes. They use them to split open coconuts. They also walk barefoot and have feet like leather.

  120. Melanie Toast March 1, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    I have four kids ages 10, 8, 6 and 2, and the older three use knives regularly to cut fruit, cheese and meat at dinner time.

    I cook a lot, so I am active in teaching them proper knife skills, and we use good knives as well (which is important for safety). Many mothers do not cook and therefore keep dull knives around which is an accident waiting to happen!

    As for age, there is no right age. There is maturity level and skill, and that’s it.

    By the way, I mentioned your website in my most recent post today over at TravelToast.com

    Thanks for starting a much-needed conversation!

  121. JeneeLyn March 1, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    I’m not sure if this falls under the heading of safety or table manners, but I have am continually amazed at how few people routinely use knives when eating. I was having dinner with a 13 year old who was trying to cut a quesadilla with the side of her fork. She honestly had no idea how to go about using a knife. Since then, I have been purposeful about teaching my 9 year old about using a knife, and my 6 year old is beginning to learn as well.

  122. Orielwen March 1, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    When you drop a knife, it’s not just a matter of not catching it. Also move your feet out of the way!

  123. DairyStateDad March 1, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    There’s a bigger picture here. Check out a blog called “Wisdom of the Hands,” by educator Doug Stowe:


  124. Milo March 1, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    I think it all depends on the child. I grew up in TN, and had a pocket knife for as long as I can remember. Cutting myself a few times. I am raising kids in Houston, it the city. Pocket knives are unheard of. This past Christmas, we were at my parents house in TN. My son needed to open some of his presents that he bought with his Christmas money, and I handed him my pocket knife. I have taught him knife safety, but he is not practiced and was rushing to open the plastic container the item was in. Well he comes down stairs holding his hand. “I cut myself” Cut was a understatement. Stabbed better describes it. Off to the ER for stitches. My partner was shocked at the tone the nurse and I took in the ER. We discussed this as a rite of passage for youth. My partner, growing up in inner San Antonio, could not believe that this was just something that happens, and expected up there in the woods. My son was 11. I can promise you it will be the last time he does not follow knife safety rules.

  125. Leonard Ewy March 2, 2011 at 4:48 am #

    Where I grew up in Colorado we had a trout stream run through our back yard. I think I was about 6 years old when I started fishing by myself. Of course I had to carry a pocket knife to gut the fish. I probably got a few cuts but I still have all my fingers.

  126. Jen Connelly March 2, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    I just thought of this one, too, to add to the anecdote:
    When I was like 8 or so my dad got me and my younger brother a woodworking kit marketed for kids. It came with a bunch of planks of some kind of soft wood and some real tools including a hammer and nails and a real hand saw. My brother was 6 and we had more fun playing with that just cutting the wood up and nailing stuff together. Sure we banged thumbs and nicked our fingers on the sharp saw blade but we were never seriously injured and were never supervised while using it.

    I also didn’t think to add butter knives to the equation because I don’t see them as anything that could injure you (even our serrated ones). My kids have been using them since they were at least 2 to butter bread and stuff. They even have kid sized ones they used before that (mostly to play with it seemed). They’ve all been making their own BP&J since they were 3.

  127. Shawnna March 2, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    Currently in Cub Scouts boys in the 3rd grade can earn their whittling chip. Some of the boys were ready to handle their pocket knives and others were not… Some were 7 and some were 8 – but there wasn’t really a correlation between age and maturity or ability…

  128. Maggie March 2, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    My daughter learned the proper way to handle matches when she was 6. She also learned never to use them without an adult and without a reason (lighting a candle, etc). She received a Swiss Army Knife when she turned 8. She likes both but is fascinated by neither, more importantly she felt proud of knowing how to use them. Because of our trust and proper instruction we’ve had no stabbings or burned down houses.

  129. Jenn March 2, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    My sister started teaching her daughter how to help prepare vegetables for dinner when she was about a year. She used one of the plastic lettuce knives as a starter knife. All fingers still accounted for.

  130. Cheryl W March 2, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    I started to reply yesterday, but didn’t have time to finish. I have a friend (male, and a taxidermist) who gave his son a machete for his 2nd birthday, in about 1993. I thought he was kind of nuts at the time, but the son was very well coordinated and knew to use it on the brambles that were rampant on the property.

    Personally, I let my kids use steak knives to cut their meat. A sharp knife is less dangerous than a dull one. My youngest was using one at about 4, maybe earlier. My older son had vision issues, we worried about him poking out his eye due to the double vision and depth perception issues that he has. He was a bit older. My daughter was about 4 or 5. They all used regular table knives before that.

    My nephew didn’t know how to use a knife when he was was 12. His mother cut his steak for him, and he had no issues that would prevent him from using a knife.

    I did, and still encourage my kids, to watch cooking shows on PBS so that they can learn how to use kitchen tools properly. They watch Norm Abrams to learn how to use power tools properly.

    I have not gotten folding knives for my kids yet because although I do trust THEM (mostly – I don’t want the desk carved and such,) I don’t trust their friends. And they don’t know how to tell their friends no. (I always think of the Simpsons when Bart gets the trainer knife with the instruction booklet titled “Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does!”)

  131. rae patton March 2, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    we chop vegetables for our soup in my waldorf inspired preschool. children as young as three successfully (and without injury) chop their own veggies. they feel so proud. we teach knife safety, of course, and the knives we use allow the children to have two hands on top so that no loose fingers are in the way.

    in waldorf schools in general, whittling and carving are done in the younger grades. it is so empowering when we learn how to use tools with reverence rather than learn to fear them.

  132. blue-grey March 2, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    My 3 year old has used this knife to cut bananas and mushrooms and the like:
    He probably started when he was 2. It’s not particularly sharp, though. Kind of like a fancy butter knife.

  133. Tuppence March 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Went to parent’s night at my child’s school last night and came away with — a knife tale for Lenore!

    My daughter’s 2nd grade class is going on a three night long school trip to a farm. We were given a list of the the items they must bring and items they might want to bring: stuffed animals, games, a whittling knife. But the whittling knife has to be handed in to the teachers the week before with the child’s name on it. Nobody even asked about it. But then when the “any questions” question came at the end, one father asked: But they don’t HAVE to bring a whittling knife, do they? No they don’t and then the teacher used the opt. to explain the handing the knifes in before – so they can’t just whip em out and play around with them on the bus ride, etc., and that they’ll be handed out to do some whittling around the camp fire and collected again afterwards. And the teacher continued, they’ll be used in the presence of a teacher, who’ll make sure they whittle correctly (cut away from yourself), but she reminded us, where knives are, cuts can happen, but they’ve got a first aid kit and band aids in the event.

    Guess it’s a good time for my daughter to receive an unexpected surprise gift — a whittling knife! How much fun is that going to be? Sitting around the campfire with her teacher showing her how to whittle . . . fab.

  134. Tuppence March 2, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

    Sorry, forgot to add I’m in Germany re. daughter’s overnight class trip with knives. (I’ve said so before but I’m not sure if L can retain all the info she gets from the people who write comments regularly.)

  135. crowjoy March 2, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    As a kid who was doing the family cooking at 9 (finally tall enough to reach the stove knobs up top) I have started prepping my kids since they were toddlers. Knife skills began around 5 for the eldest and 6 for the younger, who is still very distractable. Now the elder is 8 and beginning basic butcher knife skills… chopping with one hand on top of the blade. The 7yr old is still practicing slicing light veg (cukes, peppers, etc) with a serrated knife. Come summer harvest I plan to have 2 extra sets of hands on deck for processing!

    (Just back from 2 weeks on the road and everyone was so thrilled with various exercises in free ranging. They grew up so much in those 2 weeks!)

  136. Janis March 2, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    I really like all the comments and coming here to find there are other “bad” parents out there. We actually had to leave the boy scouts b/c my son kept attempting to break the rules in Tigers.They told him no pocketknife till he was a weeblo and earned the whittleing badge, he in turn said I have had my own for 2 years and use it every day. When I asked how they earned their whittleing badge I was told the Weeblos use a plastic butter knife to carve a soft bar of soap. They told him he could not use any of the power tools to make his Pine Wood Derby car an adult had to and they had a workshop to do it in. He told them I have always used power tools.Forget about camping he tried to put wood into the fire and was punished for it.

    In my area my children are the only once in their classes(2nd grader and 5th grader)that have gone camping, hiked on cliffs,own a pocketknife, and spend all the hours after school outside. Its really sad that when their friends come over I send them outside and the kids just stand there not knowing what to do.

    So back to the question let a child use a knife the day you first give them a fork. Slowly and surely they will master it. 3 kids ages 6, 8, and 11 and no stiches from using knifes yet

  137. jess March 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    I remember learning about knife skills in girl scouts when I was about 8. I learned how to hold a kinfe, cut away from my bod and make the claw hand to protect my fingers. I used to yell at my parents for using bad techniques and cutting themselves.

  138. marta March 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    (Slightly) different culture here in Portugal.
    Table manners here mean you know how to use fork and knife by the time you’re 6 or 7. Before that you use the knife to help holding the food with the fork, around that time you start cutting your food. No kiddie knife, regular knife. We don’t do as US table manners are supposed to be – we keep the knife on our hand throughout the meal, cutting and eating and cutting again…

    As for penknives… We gave our oldest on his 9th birthday a swiss army knife (medium sized). He had a great time and was very responsible with it. He lost it one year later (last year) in some sand dunes while whittling sticks at the beach. Now, for his coming 11th birthday he’s asking for another one.
    My middle child, a girl, was able to cut her own fruit/carrots etc since she was about 5 or 6… she’s almost 9 and helping at the kitchen.
    My youngest son is totally useless, bless him, with using the knife/scissors to cut… he’s going on 6, so no problem with that.

    I’ve never given them plastic/kiddie knives. They’re exposed to the real thing – whether they use them or not is up to them… If they don’t feel comfortable they won’t mess around…

    Marta from Lisbon, Portugal

  139. sonya March 3, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    My kids learned to chop veggies with a small knife at Montessori at about age 3-4, and regularly help with chopping in the kitchen at home. They’ve been using metal butter knives since forever, we never bothered with plastic, since I find plastic knives rather useless. The youngest still has trouble cutting meat (slicing is hard than chopping) at age 7, but the older (11) has been using a steak knife for a couple of years. The oldest got a Swiss army knife for her most recent birthday, and she loves whittling. However, I should add that she has sliced her finger a couple of times, because she tries to take short-cuts sometimes.

  140. erica March 3, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    i love my nephews and love to coook with them.
    they like cutting.

    introduce to dinner knives at age 1 (as soon as the can use a fork and spoon).
    in the kitchen age 2,5 – 3 starting tro work togetjher with good knives… learn them good techniques

  141. AndreaLynnette March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    A missionary friend of mine came back from Papua New Guinea with pictures of toddlers carrying machetes and stories of the various dangers these kids (3 and up) were taught to face alone. That put some things in perspective for me.

    My belief on this is that we teach them as much as we can about things that can hurt them, and how to handle those things correctly. I honestly don’t remember a time in my life when I DIDN’T know how to handle a kitchen or pocket knife.

    As far as when to teach YOUR particular child? When you believe they are ready. And not a moment later.

  142. BMS March 4, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    As a cub scout leader, I do understand the problem of ‘there are rules designed to cover the BSA’s behind so no one sues them’, hence the ‘learn to carve with plastic knives’ activity.

    My personal cub scouts understand that the rules are different at scout camp and scout activities than at home. As I put it to them, “I know you can handle knives/power tools. You have a mom and dad who taught you this. Not everyone does, so we need to keep the kids who haven’t learned this yet safe. It’s going to seem unfair if there is one set of rules for you, and one for everyone else, so we need to be fair and say no knives/power tools in certain cases.”

    When my Bears work on the whittling chip next month, I am going to have them practice carving soap with plastic knives. Partly because I need to follow the rules too. But mostly because some of these kids are little hellions and I do not want them armed, as I don’t trust them not to do something stupid. Let them learn the rules for knife safety, then let their parents deal with giving them jackknives and watching them slice themselves because they goofed off during the knife safety lecture.

  143. Audrey March 4, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    I just want to share a relevant story regarding knives:

    When I was in Kindergarten (so about 4-5 years old, and this is circa 1990) I was at a table with other students and a teacher. We were playing with clay and using plastic utensils.
    A student across the table asked for the plastic knife I had, so I slid it across the table…and for this I was punished!
    The teacher said I was being penalized because my action was dangerous! (Keep in mind this was a PLASTIC knife being slid across a table. Even if I had TRIED to hurt someone with it, it would probably have broken before I could do any damage. And it was nowhere near eye level either.)
    This stuck in my mind for so long because even at the tender age of 4-5, I was well aware of the difference between a plastic knife and a real one, but of course the adults gave me no such credit.

  144. Cecile March 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    My son received his first Swiss Army Knife at 6 year old. No problem since!
    In our family –from Switzerland– it is actually a tradition to offer a Swiss Army Knife at age 7 (for some reason my son received it one year earlier). Some kids had minor injuries over the years, but nothing serious. I believe that on the contrary this makes the kids more aware of the dangers.

  145. 7aki Fadi March 8, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    This quaestion was timed perfectly, well, my daughter will be 7 in May and yesterday was the first time she used a sharp knife ( she has been using butter knifes since she was 3).

    I shows her how to use is and how to safely hold it and she was soooo excited and called her Grandma to brag about it. Now she wants to help with the cooking all the time.

    Is 6 too late or early?

  146. MimiR March 8, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    Once you have mastered spreading skills, you get a sharp knife. Is that so hard?

  147. suburban bushwacker March 9, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    I found this thread heartening: As someone who had lots of knives of his own (as opposed to borrowing them) from six I’m relived to see so many people have the common sense to realise, the only way to learn to manage risk is to experience risk. Yes I and my little playmates did stupid things with knives and other toys, like an other commenter yes we hid rocks in mud balls and snow balls, and experiencing the consequences taught us not to do it again.

    Learning is only ever a response to new experiences, I am always surprised by how wussy some kids are these days, it’s as though their parents are trying to instill a kind of learned helplessness.


  148. Teri March 10, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    I don’t remember whittling, but I do vividly remember the summer I was entrusted with a knife and graduated to cutting okra in the garden vs. picking peas. I felt so grown up. I would guess I was around 9 or 10. When I was about 11 or 12, we stole the kitchen knives to cut down bamboo in the alley behind the house because we were going to build us one of those cool tiki huts like they have at the Polynesian section at Disney World. My sister ended up with a few stitches over that and we got out butts beat for dulling up the kitchen knives by using them as machetes, but………….such was life. And, the very next day we were out there with kitchen knives stolen from our friend’s parent’s kitchen and some bush wackers taken out of an unlocked storage shed. The parents didn’t care that we were playing with knives – just that we had dulled their’s (and my mom was trying to can and freeze vegetables and couldn’t find a knife to cut it with.)

    My daughter is 10. She does not cut with them (mainly because one does not have to cut to cook the things she cooks – ramen noodles, mac and cheese, scrambled eggs), but she is not afraid of them because any time I need one (especially to rip into an Amazon.com box), I ask her to hand it to me. This has allowed her to know how to properly handle one, carry one, and hand it to someone, and to not be afraid of them. The knives have NEVER been hidden away – they are on the counter top and some are in the silverware drawer.

    My niece is 8 and is terrified of them, and my daughter has two friends, both 11 years old, who will not even walk into a room if the knife is on the counter. Like it’s going to jump up and get them or something.

    Oh, and we never finished the hut that summer. There was too much else to do to devote the entire summer to one project. We had one mean kickball tournament in the neighborhood that year, played “War” in the ditch after dark (until the cops showed up and told us we couldn’t play that close to the road after dark), rode our bikes across the highway to the arcade a few times although it was against the rules – did that until we got caught and then we climbed through the sewer drain that ran under the highway because all they said was we couldn’t cross the highway – never said anything about going under it. Skinned up a few knees, tripped over a few sprinklers, laid down a few bikes in the road and had the road rash to show for it, stepped on a few bees, and my mom dug some BB pellets out of my sister’s leg courtesy of a neighbor boy who claimed he was trying to shoot squirrels. All in all, though, we were a good group of kids. This was all back in the late 70’s, early 80’s.

    It is truly a shame that I live in a much smaller town now than the town I grew up in and my daughter doesn’t have the same freedom that I did. You can walk down our street and the neighborhood is dead. I remember as a kid, people were always outside – grilling out, doing yardwork, or sitting on the porch drinking tea. Now, everybody is inside enjoying the air conditioner and watching tv. I long for the old days and have given serious consideration to moving back to Alabama just so my daughter can have some of the experiences I had.

  149. Sandra March 10, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    My children both went to German Kindergarten (ages 3 -5). They learned how to use knives to peel and chop veggies and fruits, and how to spread butter on their bread. This starts at 3 years old and all children are expected to learn these skills.

  150. Jennifer March 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Thinking back, my Brownie cooking badge (done at age six) required making apple pie, which would have involved peeling and chopping apples, as well as using a hot stove. So by age six at a minimum, I was capable of using cooking knives without real supervision. As an aside, a requirement for a badget at the same age included making a phone call with a pay phone, and going into a store without supervision and buying something (milk and bread, in my case).

    I also remember getting my first tool set. I don’t remember the exact age, but it was young enough that I was totally taken in by our neighbour showing up dressed as Santa Claus, and my sister was a year and a half younger. It was a real tool set, although with tools on the light and small end – metal box, saw, hammer, screw-driver, nails and screws, a clamp, and space in the basement to hammer and saw scraps from my Dad’s woodworking.

  151. Ramona March 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    My son uses real scissors (smaller sized craft scissors) and a table knife to cut soft things…he’s 2.5 years old. So as soon as they are mature enough to understand the danger and have the dexterity

  152. Merope March 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Growing up in northern Norway, I was given a fishing rod at about 7 or so, and a knife at about the same time. My brother got his on the same day as me, so he might have been 5. Then our parents taught us how to clean and gut our catch ourselves. That’s after fishing them out of the fjord ourselves, and breaking their necks ourselves. We also started helping to cut up moose carcasses at an early age, product of our father’s hunting. I think I was 8 or 9 the first time I fired a BB gun at the shooting range. I lost interest in shooting over the years, but if I’d still been interested, my father would definitely have taught me to hunt whenever he felt I was ready. Many of my childhood friends started hunting.

  153. Annie March 17, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    Desperate to learn how to whittle, my dad finally bought me my first pocket knife (faux mother of pearl handle with one folding blade) when I was in 2nd grade (1982). He also found me some soft wood to practice on and told me to “always cut away from myself”. For the first weeks I was only allowed to whittle when he was around to supervise (not direct my moves, mind you), after that I was free to play on my own, as long as I cleaned up my mess. I whittled lots of things, was never any good at it, and felt very proud that I had my own knife and knew how to use it.

  154. catastrophegirl March 25, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    i was 7 i think when i got a victorinox swiss army knife from my dad. i was 9 when i lost it on the monkey bars on a playground and had to save up to buy my own replacement. when i was 8 i asked for a treehouse. i got a box of nails, a pile of 2x8s, a toolbox with a hammer and a saw. i only managed a platform up in the tree but i did it, not my parents.
    i case my username isn’t clear, i’m a girl.
    my parents taught me safety around sharp things and in first grade i made a cut paper school project with an xacto knife under supervision.

    i was talking to my friend about her kids and knife safety when we were camping a couple of weeks ago. she’d be fine with her 11 yr old having a small swiss army knife [the tiny keychain kind] but she’s worried that her daughter might accidentally forget to remove it from her purse and take it to school and get suspended. she isn’t worried about her daughter being unsafe with it, just with paranoid officials at the school.

  155. Ashley March 29, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    We got my son some nylon knives for Christmas this year – he was 2.5. He’d already been using butter knives to make pb&j’s and has done very well learning to use the “real” knives on veggies. He loves to help in the kitchen and this has let him learn the rules about knives without the danger of cutting himself.

  156. Evan April 4, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Whatever age make sure the knives are sharp, especially kitchen knives. A sharp knife requires much less force to make a cut, and less force means more control and more safety. True story; I would run a knife over my wet stone before giving it to my daughters so they could help prepare dinner.

  157. Smallfly April 6, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    I’m not sure how old I was when my favorite uncle Bill taught me how to use a pocket knife to fashion a set of (very sharp) arrows, but I got my very own swiss army knife for my seventh birthday. I carried it everywhere, and used it unsepervised. Proud to say, all my fingers are intact. 🙂

  158. Smallfly April 6, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Oh, and I’m a girl.

  159. NLN April 6, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Hm, I was living in a village, so I of course stole my first -sharp and big- knife while in nursery… maybe 3-4 years old (1980s)? I cut myself a lot trying to carve into every available thing, but nothing serious, and by the time my parents noticed, they might as well leave it with me, because I was proficient enough. (the cuts were no big deal, running around in a village littered with sharp objects -grass blades, anyone?- will give you cuts by the tens every day)

    Yes, I was totally not supervised, but the worst thing happened were some shallow cuts and bruises and I never broke a bone in my life either. A knife is not really dangerous. The only thing you mustn’t do with it is run, everything else won’t kill you.


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