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Primitive Skills with Kids: Intro to Whittling

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Raising independent, self-sufficient children has always been an incredibly important part of parenthood to me. It has been my job as my children's mother to make sure that they become aware, educated, and that they develop the skills necessary to live a rich and fulfilled life. A life where, when the time comes, they are truly capable of taking care of themselves.

I learned early on not to push my interests on my children. They quickly taught me that they would let me know what they're interested in, what they want to learn and when they're ready to learn it. It has been my job to present them as many opportunities as I can, be patient, and wait for them to express their interest. "Would you like to try knot tying? Have you heard of metalsmithing? Here's this awesome book on bushcraft." It didn't take long for them to find interest in things like cooking, rock climbing, archery, and now, whittling.

At 8 and almost 6 years old, both Bodhi and Skye have seen and done a lot. They've been presented a wide variety of hobbies to explore, and because of that, they've began learning and growing a broad skill set. Each one of these experiences has taught them skills to use later in life, so I've made sure that the hobbies they are shown are good ones. Natural ones. Trades, if you will. Skills they can rely on and hopefully ones that will provide some fulfillment and happiness, too.

If given the opportunity I'm sure all kids would like things like televisions, video games and iPads. In fact, those things will completely consume them; but I guarantee these modern devices will not produce deeply fulfilled children with the skills necessary to carry them through this life. From experience with my own children, the kind of satisfaction gained through these modern devices is minute, temporary, and only leads to lazy, temperamental children struggling to find their own creativity. Because of this, I find it paramount to do my best showing them different, more organic kinds of activities and hobbies- now including ones with knives.

The thought of giving a knife to a child can be terrifying. I've had the thought myself. With that said, it is so important to first teach them to respect a knife as a tool, just as you would with a hammer, a screwdriver or fire. Once that respect is there and caution is understood and intact, the fun and creativity can begin. I was so surprised how quickly each of my children took to the knife. They were so excited to learn, eager to begin, and each handled the blade and the process far more cautiously than I had imagined they would. Within no time my oldest son, Bodhi, began making his own bow and arrow. My daughter, Skye, watched that first day, spent a little more time letting it all sink in, then couldn't wait to try herself.

The kids introduction to knife-handling and whittling was a seemingly slow and mellow process starting with sharpening sticks. Once each of them felt comforatable sharpening sticks, we began building upon that. Putting the sticks together and binding them together to build a raft. Later, Bodhi started delicately carving a single piece of wood to make a boat capable of floating down the river. It was fascinating to him. The hard work he put in grew his excitement as he thought of all the ways he could improve his design to make the boat float better.

The kids developed a feeling of deep satisfaction by making these objects themselves. A sense of maturity from being trusted with a knife. And since then, they have acted somewhat differently. They've been trusted to handle an adult tool, have treated it responsibly, and have seemed to grown from that experience- it shows outwardly.

It has been particularly special to take something like handling knives, a more male-based activity, and present that to a little girl. To remove the societal belief that girls or women shouldn't do, or are incapable of doing, hard work or manual labor. Because we've always treated Skye and her brother as equals, she doesn't know any different. She certainly has the same interest as her older brother and is more than capable to do the same activities. This belief that she is equally capable as any male will only progress what she achieves in the future.

There seems to be a forgotten love and respect for trades and primitive skills. In this modern world where you can get whatever you want in instant, and have items that are made by a machine in a factory shipped right to your doorstep the very same day, it is easy to see how so few people possess the skills to create things on their own. Simply put, they do not need to. People no longer seem to value the time spent learning a trade and the countless hours put into perfecting that skill. Quickness is prioritized over quality and we've ended up with a world of mass-produced, poorly made, environmentally unfriendly products that are filling up our landfills and oceans.

When we take the time to slow down, get into a flow state and primitively carve away at a piece of wood, there is something meditative about it. A feeling so deeply engrained in our evolution as a species that it takes over and calms every part of your being. You find yourself respecting the process. Enjoying all the time it takes to make something useful with your own hands. With every stroke of your knife you grow a bond with that object. In a way, it becomes a part of you, and therefore, it is special. Not something you plan on throwing out in a couple of days when it no longer interests you.

Instead of a buying a cheap, plastic, overproduced and under-quality knife, I made the easy choice to get a beautiful handcrafted Spanish-made pock knife that would become a family heirloom. Something of craftsmanship and quality that I could pass down to my children. I purchased a Castillo knife with a curly birch wood handle and sharpening stone that would someday go to Bodhi and Skye; and perhaps they too will pass it down to their children alongside the fun, forgotten skill of whittling.

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