There was a pretty interesting story on NPR the other day about how schools are starting to implement the of idea of grit into their curriculum. You know, School of Hard Knocks kind of stuff. They embrace failure as a means to greater learning and resilience. Which is all well and good, it just seems unsettling that schools have to teach something that used to be learned simply by living.
So it's been on my mind. And then I came across this article a few days ago about the Overprotected Child. It opens in a playground in Wales that resembles a junkyard - full of old tires and metal drums to light fires in (seriously, kids are lighting fires in them). There are adult supervisors but for the most part the kids are free to roam the piles of wood and discarded furniture all in the name of imagination and childhood and fun. I understand the fear of them lobbing an arm off as they chop wood with a hatchet or fall onto a rusty nail. And yet I'm still going to side with the fire-builders on this one. Kids need time away from adults. And they need to do outrageous things that make them feel older and powerful. They need to be able to take their bikes and ride out into the world. They need to come across a problem and come up with a solution on their own. And also, kids get hurt. And they get hurt doing the most mundane things. I cracked open my head just spinning around to make myself dizzy and I spun into a mirror, and that was in the safety of my home with my mom watching.
The worrier in me kind of panicked with I read about all the seemingly dangerous things these kids were doing. But then the author noted that the people who run it keep an injury log and there hadn't been anything more serious than the scraped knees that always come with playing. Not any of them have burned up from lighting a fire in a metal drum. She also noted that she figured out her 10 year old daughter had only spend about 10 minutes completely unsupervised in the whole of her lifetime. Ten minutes! That's 10 whole years entirely in contact with an adult. This seems shocking to me. Although it I also walked to kindergarten with just Gina, who was 7, in Pomona. We regularly walked down to the liquor store for candy. We had a pile of wood with nails in it on the side of the house that we always played in. So did our neighbor. If you ask my siblings what the best park was they would say the one that had the enormous metal slide that didn't have any railings and that you could easily fit 20 kids on. It's gone now, along with all the other really fun stuff. Which is such a big shame.
Let your kids be free! (So says the childless spinster.)