Do your kids play with sticks or knives yet?


He's three years old and learning to fell a tree.

Here’s a photo of a three-year-old copying his dad felling a dead elm tree. He looks out of order but in fact he’s an expert play-learner. Minutes after this photo was taken he switched to a game with his slightly older girl cousins, still armed with this brutish stick, and happily became a pirate in all but weapon use. Already this small boy knows that hitting someone with a stick causes the game to end. So he doesn’t do it. This post is by Nicola Baird, and it’s all about raising your own Homemade Kid.

 When I lived in the South Pacific (two years with a project found by Voluntary Service Overseas/VSO)  most people carried bush knives. They were the old-fashioned sickle shape, rather than cleavers or billhooks and potentially very dangerous. Most children carried knives too, you’d see little “big men”, perhaps about nine years old, walking around slashing expertly at the vegetation across the path. They could husk coconuts without losing fingers, bend a sapling to improve a bridge over a wide stream, cut grass (without a lawnmower) and generally sort out most tasks with the sharpest of blades.

When it goes wrong
These instruments were potentially lethal and I remember meeting one sad little boy in Papua New Guinea who was trailed by the unfortunate information that as a four-year-old he’d killed his younger brother with a bush knife. Meanwhile in the UK cities knife crime is a tragic problem, and a very scarey issue for parents of teenage boys especially.

Doing it safely
As children get older though, having the ability to hold a knife safely (blade downwards), to cut a sandwich or hunk of cheese (blade downwards) or simply to wittle at a piece of stick (you do this by moving a penkinfie blade down and away from you) ought to improve your quality of life – or at least pass the time in a creative skill-gaining haze.

One of the great mums quoted in my new book, Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children  is an expert anthropologist who added to her knowledge by living in Africa and the Pacific watching the ways children were introduced to traditional skills.

Anna says: “You pass on life skills subliminally – by creating family habits rather than instructing children what to do as if they were in a classroom. If you think of Inuit or Ghanian village communities the children learn by example. They watch, they imitate, they’re not told. When they start experimenting they develop their own skills. Adults do things with their children – making pots, farming, looking after younger siblings – things that are appropriate to their age and capability. They even let small children handle large bush knives. They don’t expect a lot from a child before it ‘knows sense’ at around the age of four, or ‘can reason well’ at around eight or 10. Because we don’t live close to our extended families, or don’t have a safe community space under the village mango tree, we have lost these skills of socialisation.”

Another  inspiriation to new parents is the book The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff whose observations led to the birth of attachment parenting, see more about this here.

Mum’s the teacher
By learning to avoid saying “don’t touch”, unless that’s really the right thing to say we can help our children learn to deal with risk – a really essential skill.

Joining the lovely Woodcraft Folk (Elfins 6-9 years and Woodchips under 6 years) at , or Brownies and their big sisters, the Girl Guides or Scouts (headed by Bear Grylls) are all fantastic ways to learn how to do things safely. But another way to introduce the tools of human life are to use those tools with your children in normal everyday activities. 

I’d like some help here. How and when do you as a parent introduce the big skills – like cutting bread, sewing with sharp needles, trimming hedges, cutting wood, driving vehicles etc? Or maybe you feel that you cannot because as a child your own adult guardians over-protected you, and simply didn’t let you cross the road, take a tube, walk to school or gut the chicken? And if you don’t know, how do you teach your own children the real basics?

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2 Comments on “Do your kids play with sticks or knives yet?”

  1. stacy Says:

    hmmmm….already with a 10 month old I am saying “no” don’t eat the shoes, don’t suck on the end of the vacuum, don’t shake the standing lamp….

    And already he imitates us first with wanting to brush his own teeth (first one now 5 teeth), he rubs a cloth over the table maybe cleaning like mom does, and he gets the sweeper and pushes it back and forth over the floor recently.

    I guess with guidance a child can try new skills and should not be discouraged. Making the situation safe is the challenge isn’t it ie. sewing with a super big needle at first or cutting something soft with a butter knife at first…

    • homemadekids Says:

      Hi Stacy, I really worried about this post as there was a horrible gun crime a day later in Cumbria (by a 52 year old), but I do think learning good use of life skills early is important. Your little boy is trying his best to copy – incredible doing his teeth! I think it’s great to use this inbuilt capacity to learn, but of course it has to done carefully. Somone who isn’t yet one years old is not going to have that much (any?) self-preservation skills. Personally I hate to say no, and to avoid that I tried to remove the no from the house. So can you move the vacuum and the shoes out of reach, does it matter if the lamp is shaken? Could you put the lamp in a cage (pen?) until your boy is able to resist shaking it? One of the brilliant people I spoke to during the writing of Homemade Kids was Mukti Mitchell, now in his 30s, who’d been brought up in a very green way. He said his family “didn’t tell me how I should think or what the world was like, they left it for me to work it out for myself. Rather than tell me what I could or coudln’t do they created the environment they wanted for me. There was no TV, I played with wooden toys and we had a nice garden so I was outside most of the time. It’s good to bring your children up in an environment that lets you say yes to most of their requests. If there is no TV they can’t ask to watch it!” I thought this strategy was very good, I wonder if it will help you?

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