Have a dangerous weekend
In a world where most of us are trying to keep our kids safe, there’s a new book, Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), which teaches us how to expose our kids (and ourselves) to more danger—for their own good. As nervous as it made me feel at first, it’s a concept I like. And one that seems especially appropriate at the cottage.
I remember last summer, anxiously watching my (then) seven-year-old nephew poking at the campfire with a big stick, delighting in the sprays of sparks he was sending up. I was about to say something about being careful, when my wise aunt put her hand on my leg, and suggested quietly that playing with fire might be just the right thing for him to be doing.
More than perhaps anywhere else, the cottage presents a world of opportunity to let kids experiment with gravity and pocket knives (and yes, to chance falling out of trees and cutting themselves). Taking apart an old boat motor or water pump feels risky, but what better way to understand that it can be done, that there are parts inside that make it work, and that we can figure out how they work? As one of the book’s authors explains, it opens up the world inside the black box of these complex things around us, and makes them knowable.
My fellow editor, Martin Zibauer, introduced me to this philosophy when he sent me the link to an interview in The Atlantic with Gever Tulley one of the authors of Fifty Dangerous Things. Tulley and his co-author Julie Spiegler, are founders of the Tinkering School, which is essentially a summer camp offering hands-on experience that puts this theory into practice.
Their book suggests activities, some of which you likely did as a kid, but which you might have hesitated to let your children do. Things like: Lick a nine-volt battery (#1), Stand on the roof (#19), Break glass (#23), Dam up a creek (#30), or Find a beehive (#40). All classic childhood cottage activities. I’ve done each of these and lived to tell the tale. I also like the introductions (one for kids, one for parents), which help familiarize readers with the idea of purposefully exposing oneself, or one’s offspring, to danger.
The theory goes that kids are better at problem solving (and being creative, confident, competent, adaptable people) if they’ve had some actual experience solving problems. Not only that, it gives them opportunity to be in control of their own environment and to know how to respond to and gauge danger when they inevitably face it.
For a quick introduction to the concept, go watch Tulley’s TED talk: 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do. And then go have yourself a dangerous weekend.