Wood carving is a skill that can be learned from an early age with appropriate instruction and tools. Since it does require a certain degree of hand-eye coordination to maintain safety, children 8 to 10 years of age are probably ready to start learning basic whittling skills with a pen knife. More complex carving should only be taught once the basics are mastered.
Start with a pen or paring knife. These knives have rounded blades, with less of a tip and an edge on only one face, as opposed to carving knives, which can have a sharp edge around the the entire blade. Start with whittling that works away from the body, with the hand that is not holding the knife well clear of the cut. Once more advanced skills are introduced, use a leather or wooden thumb sheath for protection. Do not allow an inexperienced carver to handle any knife without instruction and supervision.
Start with simple projects such as a pencil made from a twig. Sharpen the end, then allow the end to burn in your campfire, or barbecue to create a charcoal tip you can write with. Tent pegs are another item that can be made from a simple whittled stick. Whittle the bark from a longer limb to create a custom walking stick. Use the tip of the knife to carve your initials into your staff for even more customization.
Draw designs on a flat plaque to create a one-of-a-kind decorator item, gift or award. Carve the design using carving chisels and a wood mallet. Choose your chisels carefully to get the effects you want. Different chisel tips cut at different depths and have differing profiles. Draw your design on a box lid or face and carve it in the same way. Common motifs include nature, such as flowers and birds, geometric designs and even initials.
If the young carver is part of a scouting program, a neckerchief slide is a good project for a more advanced carver. Designs are available from the Boy Scouts for kerchief slides featuring many of their mascots and other designs. Once basic three-dimensional carving is learned, the options are limited only by the imagination. Create small figurines or items such as trees. Combine several small carvings to create a display, or diorama.