Here’s a fun TED talk by Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School. He talks about the importance, in this often hyper-paranoid era of overprotecting children, of letting kids do “dangerous” things that allow them to explore the world and feel some power over it. Among his suggestions for dangerous things you should let your kids do: Play with fire (“you can think of the open pit fire as a laboratory” where they’ll learn about “intake, combustion and exhaust,” he says), own a pocket knife (“it’s a powerful and empowering tool”); throw a spear (practicing throwing things improves visual problem solving, concentration, and predictive abilities among other skills, he says); and deconstruct appliances.
As I listened to him talk he evoked some of my most treasured memories of childhood: There was nothing I loved more than sitting on my dad’s lap as I steered our car down some dusty mountain backroad. And I always enjoyed poking sticks around in a campfire (although it was my brother who was the real pyromaniac and fire builder – his passion for fire has survived to this day). And one of my fondest memories of middle school involved taking apart and trying to understand an electric pencil sharpener with my friend Stacie in sixth grade. It was part of a little science project we invented (I think we were examining how graphite conducts electricity).
The hyper-paranoid mom in me will probably stall for a year or two, but I’m seeing pocket knife in Will’s not-too-distant future. And the next time the toaster breaks, we're breaking out the screw drivers.