Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We Are 5 for 5

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.
Is this alarming? I wondered where we would stand, how our list of dangerous things would compare with Gever Tulley's list of dangerous things and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. It's not that I relish the idea of implicating myself as a careless, reckless, negligent parent. On the contrary, incorporating these 5 dangerous things in to our lives, I believe, demonstrates our careful, rational, attentive parenting skills.

1. Play With Fire
It's primal. It's the gathering place. It's practical. Fire is good. As a grown-up I have never hesitated to build a backyard campfire... in a sandpit, in a tin can. I remember when I was about 10 years old my mother observed that I could not light a match and she made me learn. She really had to make me do it, because I had a fear of fire and heat and getting burned and I would not light a match. I think I was crying and protesting, but she broke through my fear and gave me a skill. It was a beautiful exchange of ignorance and anxiety, for knowledge and ability. I offer that same opportunity to my children as soon as they seek it. I do not withhold fire and they do not glorify it or fear it. They understand its virtues and its risks.

And they understand that I will let them experiment with fire and test it, under supervision. So, when we went camping Maria could not resist cooking the onions she chopped (see Dangerous thing #2) in the candle. She could feel the heat, and she observed that she needed a tool to extend her reach and she learned that candles have a weak flame, easily snuffed out by too many onions. The worst result of this experiment was a delayed dinner, because I was by her side and ready to intervene.

Fire takes patience. It takes practice and fire needs our full attention. Patience, practice, and full attention are also very helpful in raising children. I keep my expectations high and my patience higher. I accept that there will be injuries and there will be messes. Lots and lots of messes. I consider messes a certain indicator of intelligence and creativity. I consider cleaning messes a certain indicator of training, intelligence and maturity. I tend to value creativity more than training, but there is room for practice in all areas.

I wish I had photographs of the first trip I made with the boys to El Valle, Mexico. It was in February of 2001... so, William was almost 10, Alex was 6 and Max was 2. It was on this adventure to the remotest corner of Sonora that the boys fell in love with fire. We cooked with fire, we warmed the house and water with fire. We played with fire. Yes. I know "play" sounds so irresponsible and wrong. Playing with fire rocks. Too often we think that play is trivial and that it minimizes responsibility. Play is the work of explorers, of learners, and work is the play of the inspired, the motivated. We can play and work and it can be both responsible and fun.

They observed the open fire where we were cooking meals, they watched their bisabuelo keep the fire lit for the water heater, and they became aware of this element as a tool and a resource, and a source of something to do in a place where there was no television, bookstore, theme parks, toy chests, or playgrounds. So they gathered wood and kindling to help keep the cooking fire going. Then they burned sticks and observed the transference of heat from wood to sticks, from coals to leaves, from stones to fingertips... and they learned about burns to skin... sufficiently to avoid serious injury.

An element of danger is present everywhere and I cannot see the point of avoiding experiences for the sake of avoiding pain, confusion or disorder. They learned, not from a book or cartoons, about what fire is and what it can do and why it matters and how it can behave. There is sufficient evidence that this kind of learning is hugely beneficial and lasting. Also, they learned that I trust them... I trust their intelligence and ability to gather information, I trust their judgment and sense of responsibility and fairness, I trust their intuition to act in accordance with sound principles... these are not experiences to be acquired from any book or video.

Coming up:

2. Own A Pocketknife
3. Throw A Spear
4. Deconstruct Appliances
5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car


tara said...

In total agreement. We love us a good marhsmallow fire here.

mtnchild said...

I believe that children NEED to be exposed to some dangerous things - how else will they learn to cope with the world?

Fire is good.

Rock climbing is good-show them on a small bunch of rocks, show them hand holds, foot holds and let them explore - don't send them up on El Capitan just yet!

Knives are good.

Guns/rifles are also good-show them WHAT they can do. Hurting people is NOT good!!!! and teach them that guns/rifles can get you food. You know what I mean. (Here in my area, we hunt for food in the fall.)

I think I could bring up quite a few more, but I'll wait to read the rest of your list.

Hugs, Yvette

d.a. said...

You so rock.

* said...

you make a great point.there are many great, beautiful and useful things which can be very dangerous as well, so children really need to get to try them. how else are they to learn otherwise.

i still can't light a match or start a fire in any way.or drive a car. so stupid and inconvenient. but i don't think it's only fear that stops me, but respect as well. so i think it's best to teach children respect without fear.

but do you think there things in life everyone would be wise to be afraid of? like drugs, for one. or is fear inappropriate even here?

cristina thornburg photography said...

I like! :P

Of course, I learned to love fire in the same place! "Fosforos" was an important word to know in El Valle! LOL

Sorry I didn't get to chat with ya the other day. Hopefully, we can talk soon! xoxo

dewatobay said...

The internet with its blog world is truly an amazing place, where one can connect with a stranger and vicariously appreciate their experiences and introspections. So, I'm reading and reflecting. Thanks.

Dallas said...

That's a great post. I don't remember when I first learned about fire, but I assume it was on a camping trip somewhere. There's just something so intriguing about it.

village mama said...

"they learned that I trust them"
one of the greatest gifts all children deserve. xo

Be Cool Carpool said...

Some kids join Scouts just to camp and build fires. Fires are fun. We and our children are so far removed from cold, fear and death. We forget someone has to kill them so we can eat.

Mama Spark said...

Your post made my laugh. I LOVE fires. My kids learned how to build one very young when we went camping up north at my dad's place. They also learned how to hunt for crayfish at night in the river with only their hands and a flashlight! They loved that too.