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Why German Parents Let Their Kids Use Razor-Sharp Knives

Safety scissors — those round-tipped cutting tools designed to ensure little fingers aren’t accidentally removed from little hands — are a staple of the American kid‘s pencil box. They’re also barely adequate for cutting construction paper into cute little shapes.

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Unsurprisingly, German kids don’t use a lot of safety scissors — they’re more likely to have razor sharp penknives. That’s what Christine Gross-Loh, the author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around The World Can Teach Us found when she visited a “Waldkindergarten,” or “forest kindergarten.” These year-round outdoor Pre-K programs encourage all sorts behavior that would get an American preschool sued out of existence (unsupervised tree climbing, anyone?), but it’s the really sharp knives that usually blow foreign parents’ minds.

The rationale here is sound. Norwegian researcher Ellen Hansen Sandseter suggests that cultures that expose their children to risk and risky play actually wind up raising safer for kids. Let them use knives at a young age and you teach kids to better ascertain levels of risk. A sheltered kid doesn’t grow up with any such barometer, or any of the resulting independence.

It’s important to note that knife use among German toddlers is normally supervised at first, often in an educational setting like a Waldkindergarten. It’s not like these kids are given deadly weapons and told to frolic at will — something that, historically, has not turned out well for the Germans.