Do your kids play with sticks or knives yet?
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 www.woodcraftfolk.org.uk , or Brownies and their big sisters, the Girl Guides www.girlguiding.org.uk or Scouts (headed by Bear Grylls) www.scouts.org.uk 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?