I’m taking a little break from being the internet’s favourite filthy hippy to write a little something about one of my other favourite topics: children and knives!
Well, more widely, about how capable kids are and how it is up to us to either encourage their skills or make them afraid.
I was doing a bit of cleaning and tidying around the yurt yesterday, trying to get it ship shape. (By “cleaning and tidying” I mean “sitting on the sofa reading The Help”.) I looked out onto the deck and saw that Ramona and her mate Sandy were taking apart the washing basket, pulling each bit of weave out. It was on its last legs already but they were massively hastening its demise. I wondered to myself: do I mind? Well, it only cost 50p from the second hand shop and 50p spent on a thrilling activity where they analyse the process of basket weaving through deconstruction is 50p well spent. Also, very good bit in the book.
So I left them to it. I looked out about 20 minutes later and saw that they had found a bungee cord and had rigged up, from the floor of the deck to a hook on the wall, an enormous sling shot and they were firing bits of weave like arrows into the fruit trees. I was blown away! It was completely genius! They spent another half an hour working out what items fired the best. They are three and five years old and they had pretty much devised a contraption that would teach them about velocity and aerodynamics and they were having a complete blast.
It made me consider how if I was in a worse mood I would have very quickly put an end to this activity. I have done it before, acted out of grumpiness (primarily) when I have observed Ramona making a mess – closing the door on what was almost certainly going to be an amazing learning experience and chance for creativity. (I say “almost certainly” because it is the only way kids are wired: to learn.)
I am glad that early on in our parenting story we decided to consider our stance on risk. As I think, apart from general parenting grumpiness (*puts hand up*) it is our own fear that impinges on these moments. It is our sense of risk that narrows our children’s scope for being able and shorts their learning journey.
Our children often have the natural skill, the ability to focus and the desire to DO STUFF. They have it all there. They just need a few things from us:
A friend mentioned the other day how her Aunty was on her back for letting her seven year old help chop the veggies. A seven year old? With a knife?! I’m sorry but that is a bit absurd. In some countries five year olds are out hunting. Ramona has been chopping veggies with me for dinner since she was about 2.5. Give children a chance to help, to be a part of things. With something sharp we can show them how to keep it safe, but then stand back while they work it out.
“We live in an increasingly risk-averse culture, where many children’s behaviour is constrained. We raise them and educate them “in captivity” because of our anxieties. We are continually hypervigilant, as our anxieties are fuelled by stories and images of violent and aggressive crimes. And then we label children as troublemakers or failures because, as a society, we often fail to see their potential.” Professor Tanya Byron
A realistic safety check
We do have a bigger picture and we are able to foresee in a way that children aren’t. We have a policy now of scoping out all the water in an area before giving the kids chance to free range it. However, far too often we cry DANGER! when realistically, the risk is small.
When it comes to sharp knives and cooking – there is no life/death scenario happening there.
A philosophical approach to accidents
Ramona has a burn on her arm from where she was frying something last week. She leant over just too far and touch the side of the pan. Definitely feel like a rubbish parent when out and about- especially as it looks far too much life a self harming injury…
But the funny thing about it is that I have an identical burn – in fact I have TWO on my arm from doing the same thing TWICE. And I am 32 and have been cooking my own dinners for 15 years! Clumsiness isn’t an attribute of toddlers alone.
Accidents happen regardless of age. It is how children learn.
And better a broken limb than a lifetime of being fearful, eh? (I wrote all about that once…)
Our reactions in check
In Letting GO As Children Grow (I HEARTILY recommend this book! Totally underrated) Deborah Jackson talks about how our eagerness to help children learn about safety can actually hurt them much more. She discusses the use of scissors- scissors are really quite harmless yet when a young child picks them up we start to hyperventilate. This reaction then underpins all their future interaction with scissors, making them timid and unlikely to use them well.
And, with mess, consider if it is worth getting the hump over a child’s creative chaos- could this be the moment they realise they want to be the next Picasso- or simply a genius child artist like twelve year old Keiron?!- before balling them out.
Make it a practice to take a few seconds to asses where you are coming from before you react to a bit of risk or deconstruction.
John Holt talks about how our children are worth good equipment. How is a child meant to fall in love with painting if they only have these cheap paints that have almost no colour to them? My children can craft for so much longer if we do it with nice stuff that works rather than the nasty kids versions.
There is also a safety thing here- when it comes to cutting vegetables, there is probably less damage to be done with a sharp knife than a blunt one was it requires less pressure.
It is probably the one I struggle with most. When we bake together I am ITCHING to take the beater out of my children’s hands so I can get it done. ARGH WHY DO I DO THIS? I realise that the process is equally as important with the end product with children, but still I have to stomp on my impatient brain particles during it. Last night we baked pikelets and Juno, 16 months, did most of the beating. Pretty amazing!
An open door
For our first five months in the yurt we weren’t hooked up to solar so we depended on candles for light. You can imagine how fascinated the girls were with that. I would sit for almost 45 minutes each night whilst they lit them and blew them out, lit them again. It was important to me as I felt sure that if I was to say no to the playing/ working with candles Ramona would find a way- her urge was THAT strong- with or without me. And without me would be far, far more dangerous.
“If we become the locked door that stands between them and what they want, the only options we’re giving them are to push against us or sneak around us. If we stand beside them and help them figure out how they can get from where they are to where they want to be, then we become their partner.” From Joyfully Rejoicing.
One of the great gifts we can give our children is the space and freedom to discover the world and their own place within it. This is a gift that begins in our own home, as we give them chance to genuinely participate and as we trust them with implements and as we leave them alone without our constant verbal motivation. But it is one that will bloom and grow as they march on out the door.
I said something to Ramona in passing once, when she was asking me permission to do something(she does this, I don’t know where she gets it from.) I said “Sure, mighty girl. Go right ahead, the world is your oyster!” It has stuck with her, and now, every so often when she is discovering something brand new or thrillingly reaching her own upper limits, she will shout excitedly, “THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER, EH, MUM?!”
It is, Ramona, it really is.