Thursday, February 19, 2009

We Are 5 for 5: Part 2

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.

My first post on this topic covered fire. I really feel like I put myself in the line of fire, so to speak, by admitting that I let very young children hold hot sticks and burn leaves, but I think it's important to create an environment for safe danger, for careful risks. We learn when we go outside of our comfort zone, by experiencing physical actions and objects, so we know hot from cold, sharp from dull. I am not trying to preach... it's more like being defensive, because I believe in my methods, but I know some people will think I am nuts. I really cannot fathom parenting without carefully, rationally, attentively providing real life experiences for my children, and real life can be dangerous.


2. Own a Pocketknife

Knives are sharp. Good knives are very sharp. I have never met a single person who has not cut themselves. Young, old, expert, novice... who has not cut themselves? Even just a little bit. Hopefully not fatally. I worked in a bakery and cut myself at least twice when slicing bagels. Geoff worked in fast food and did nasty things while prepping food and cooking burgers... you don't even want to know. But before he was injuring himself in a professional setting he was a kid with knives and Exacto tools and he cut himself then too.

Hold on. Funny story: When my brothers and I were little squirts, we got to buy pocket knives in Mexico and they were mostly a novelty because they were ridiculously small. Closed, the knives were not bigger than 1"... they were seriously tiny and really kind of cute and we loved them. One day we were visiting the mall and the knife cutlery store was advertising free sharpening for all pocket knives. Cool! We stepped in to the very professional boutique, with the samurai swords, katana and coats of arms on the walls and presented the clerk with our pocketknives. He scoffed. He ridiculed and scoffed some more. He was so mocking and dismissive about our knives that he refused to sharpen them, but we insisted. He said they could not be sharpened, because they were 'just toys' and as he was saying this he opened one up and to demonstrate their toyness he dragged his thumb across the 1/2" blade. He would have done less damage if he had not dragged so much of his thumb, so vigorously, but he was evidently not that clever. He slit his thumb wide open and sent us away with one duller, bloody little knife. Incidentally, we never hurt ourselves with those knives.


So what to do? Banish all sharp things? No scissors, no pins? With some possible exceptions, I think children can be trusted to learn that sharp things must be used with care and respect. I think adults can take the time to instruct and observe, and facilitate opportunities to teach children how to use all kinds of tools, including knives and scissors. Maria has been sitting beside me and cutting fabric since she was 3 years old... no cuts. She has been loading and unloading the pincushion since she was 2 years old... not more than 2 pokes. And when we were camping at El Capitan State Beach 2 years ago, I let her help chop the veggies. When Max was 3, and showed an interest I taught him how to hold a knife and sat with him while he worked. He loved peeling and chopping garlic. LOVED it. I taught William. I taught Alex. They keep their fingers out of the way. They know to be attentive and patient. They know to use the right tool for the job. A dull dinner knife can do a lot more damage than a sharp paring knife; if the knife cannot slice efficiently it will slip and do damage. Sharp knives work.

I have to admit, this one, owning pocketknives got me in to trouble. It was 4 years ago when Alex says, "I was walking down the street when all of a sudden a bunch of Ninjas flipped out and tried to kill me, but then we realized that we were equally matched and we went our separate ways" and in the melee he cut something, a little bit. We cannot remember what he cut (finger?) I vividly recall how mad the doctor was, at me. Alex needed a tetanus shot, but no stitches or butterfly bandages. And apparently I needed a parenting lecture from the peds doctor about children and pocketknives. She told me to 'take the knife from him and to never let children play with knives, and that if I didn't take it away he was sure to get cut again, or worse.' She was very mad at me, very finger wagging-incredulous, you bad mother mad. He was almost 11 years old, extremely responsible and well-behaved, not in the least bit stupid, reckless, blind, ignorant, or self destructive. I imagined this small cut, the memory of it and all it entailed would make a suitable and instructive impression, so that I need not ever worry about his next cut. And, there will be a next cut, because we use tools.


3. Throw A Spear

I am claiming this on a technicality. We do not have spears, but if we did, we would totally throw them. We do have bows and arrows and I think the danger/learning opportunity is comparable to spear throwing. When we were Jolly Green Rancheros, living on our 2 acres of El Rancho goodness, I bought the boys a bow and arrows. 3 boys: 1 bow... a safe ratio, when the only target will be a straw bale. Hand-eye coordination... when I Googled this I mostly found articles on improving the connection between what we see and how we can physically control and guide our movements. I recall from university courses and reading about child development, language acquisition, and fine motor development... hand-eye coordination is important. Gever Tulley goes in to some of the specifics about how throwing things strengthens coordination, improves 3-D and structural problem solving. Brain stuff working in conjunction with body stuff... it's good stuff!

We never once had a single bad incident with the bow and arrows. Alex took great interest in the activity and it led to a deeper appreciation for Medieval history, a subject he is very well read on, and it greatly improved his coordination and visual acuity. I wonder if target practice with the bow and arrows is what gave him such remarkable skills in rendering his ideas into elaborate and detailed designs and illustrations... yeah, I think so. Max also embraced the activity and he spent hours a day practicing when we moved to the Treehouse. He had to develop strength and coordination to manage the sizable bow. He had to overcome the frustration of not being as skilled as his brothers, and he worked very hard to successfully close the gap. Somewhere in our garage is a book that Max made, papers stapled together, and it is full of numbers... hundreds and hundreds of numbers and tallies, reflecting Max's scorekeeping. He's a numbers guy. He logged every score made on their homemade targets, so that bow and arrow time was physical and academic for Max.

We miss having a yard big and safe enough for the bow and arrow. We look forward to being some place where we can take aim at a bulls-eye or straw bale, pull back on the string and hit the spot we aim for. I know from personal experience that hitting what we aim for is deeply satisfying. And, now that I have thought about it, I think we might see about making some spears.

Coming up:

4. Deconstruct Appliances
5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car

6 comments:

  1. Hooray for responsible kids with pocket knives! I loved having a swiss army knife as a child. I also remember whittling some balsa wood for a project and slicing a finger with an exacto knife.

    Almost everything worthwhile in this life is dangerous.

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  2. I think you are right on the money here...some risk and danger and consequences...but guided so kids don't get seriously messed up...good work!

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  3. One can protect children too much.

    You are not. This is called experiential learning.

    Good mother. Good, GOOD mother!

    Lucky, LUCKY kids. They are and will be very capable people.

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  4. When I was a kid I used to have a bow and arrow. Then when I got in college I took archery classes. I think back then I played like I was Emma Peel (Diana Rigg - The Avengers).

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  5. Hurray for risks! Yup, Dean's got a nice pocket knife, we have an excellent archery set, and his uncle (my brother) gave him a very tame BB gun for Christmas (we're just waiting for the snow to melt to try it out). It is about learning responsibility -- understanding the damage these things can do if mis-used but knowing how to use them properly. Takes away the mystery/excitement of the unknown that CAN get some kids into trouble. Oh, and Santa brought Dean a nice paring knife this year too.

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  6. Yes, your kids are lucky. When my sister and I were growing up, we were stifled by the "look but don't touch" theory of everything! It seems our dad was one big bundle of phobias.

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