I do NOT spank my children but that’s what the little stinker told the pediatrician with a devilish smile at his five year old check up in May. Not a minute later he shared that he also has a knife (she thinks I’m a great mom.)
I once asked my 87 year old grandfather how old he was when he got his first pocket knife. He said he thought he was two or three. Things were different back then, sure. But kids didn’t have different brains, people just had different expectations of what they were capable of. In some cultures children as young as one use knives and tend fires.
Milo got his first knife on his fifth birthday. A hand-me-down fixed blade from his dad. He also has a little green Swiss army knife on a string. He really just loves to use the tweasers in “emergency” situations.
My kids do dangerous things. And I let them, on purpose. Milo spent the better part of his day hammering nails and rocking out to his weather radio. When he was two, he hammered ten nails into the back fence without slipping once. He tinkers, he builds, he figures out how stuff works.
We all know that school tends to be a creativity killer. There’s just no time to let children discover things on their own and god forbid there be any danger involved. The litigious nature of our society forbids danger, forbids the unknown. When we are overly cautious and rigid, we find ourselves cultivating fear and indecisiveness in ourselves and our children (talk about fear and indecision, I just rewrote that sentence five times). Children need safe and comfortable boundaries, of course. But if you’ve ever seen a child tinker, it is something to behold. Give a little person a bunch of junk or a knife a rope and the woods and just see what unfolds.
People are meant to solve problems and master tools. I want to afford my children the opportunity to fail safely with a scrape and a hug rather than to send them off to a world that the expect to be safe and truly isn’t.
If you’ve never heard of Gever Tully, his tinkering school and his book 50 Dangerous Things you Should Let Your Children Do, you have to check him out. He puts power tools in the hands of second graders and these kids make amazing things, like a functioning roller coaster! In his book, he encourages kids to lick a battery (he always explains the science behind it) or to hammer a nail or god forbid, walk home from school, alone! When I first read the book, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the 50 dangerous things my brother and I had done as children. We went in weird tunnels,blowed stuff up, played with dry ice, and hung out in the woods. My parents let us be children, they allowed us to explore, play, imagine and discover.
I’m not sure how much has really changed (everything, nothing at all) since I was a child or even when my grandfather got his first knife but what I do know is that there never seems to be enough time or space to examine, reflect on, resolve, repair and create the world around us. Why not allow children the gift of production, to be able to work through failure and frustration to figure something out using their little person brains and hands.