Updated: May 30
Play is the best way for children to learn. Sometimes play has risks, this is called risky play and it has an important role in children’s growth and skill development. Rough and tumble play, climbing trees and using tools are examples of this.
Whittling, is the art of shaving wood with a knife or peeler. It is a fun and relaxing activity and it is one of the favourite activities at forest school. I have never seen a child that doesn’t love modeling wood with a knife. There is autonomy and a big sense of agency that children find when being trusted to use real tools appropriately. Children don’t want to hurt themselves and are keen on learning how to work appropriately with tools.
There are several reasons why engaging in risky and challenging play, within a safe and learning environment, is positive for our kids. They practice life learning skills such as confidence, independence, resilience, persistence and understanding consequences to actions. They develop risk awareness and there is a big feeling of success when little ones whittle their first stick or climb a mountain.
In Forest Schools we assess risk; we balance benefits and risks and make sure that the potential learning outcomes are always bigger than the risks. By making the environment as safe as possible, we control risk and by assessing the situation together with the child, we navigate ways for staying safe.
A good way to start this practice is with peelers using them to peel carrots, cucumbers and sticks. Once they demonstrate good practice and responsibility, they can move on to knives. Some simple ideas to start whittling are stick people, magic wands, spears, and mobiles. Nails and hammers are another fun way for practicing fine motor skills and confidence.
There is something deeply calming when children are whittling. They are immersed, concentrated and proud of themselves. Our role as adults is to supervise their tool use and to encourage their work. With the presence of an adult, basic instruction and gloves, the chances of injury are small and the opportunities for success and empowerment are huge. Invite your kids to try, encourage them to be risk aware and not be risk-adverse and, to have fun with their whittling projects!