Recently, I posted about having received Gever Tulley's book Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) as a gift from Max, and mentioned the plan to spend our summer session giving as many of those things a go as feasible in preschool.
We started out by throwing spears, then we tried licking 9-volt batteries. I've introduced these "projects" by showing them the book, then pointing out that we're going to try a "dangerous thing." This whole idea doesn't appeal to some children and they happily play elsewhere. But it does appeal, sometimes very much so, to others. Not all of us are attracted by the forbidden fruit, or perhaps just not to this specific forbidden fruit, but like it or not, some of us are. And we will be drawn to it whether or not we've been taught to mitigate our risks. These are important lessons we are teaching.
During our first two "dangerous" undertakings, the kids have been the first to point out, "This isn't dangerous." And they're right. Because as Tulley emphasizes in the book, the 50 activities would only be truly risky if undertaken in a willy-nilly, unsupervised manner. The entire undertaking is about teaching children that the world is theirs to explore and manipulate, that there are great forces at our fingertips, and if you take the time to understand them, even they, mere children, can master them in a way that unleashes their potential -- safely!
The children at Woodland Park have been engaging in risk assessment for a long time while doing things like building with blocks, using hand tools, wrestling, and yes, even things like public speaking and expressing emotions. These are all "dangerous" activities. They require forethought, rules, courage, and practice, if we are going master them. And once we have, we say, "This isn't dangerous."
This week, we broke glass. Well, not glass, but rather ceramic tiles because we didn't have a quantity of glass around to break, but we did have a box of ceramic tiles, and they seemed similar enough to serve as a substitute. We didn't use Tulley's glass breaking method, but came up with one of our own.
Step one: Put on your safety goggles.
Step two: Pick out your tile and wrap it in a towel. ("Like a present," we started saying.)
Step three: Select your rubber mallet. (We have three sizes. None of the children chose the medium mallet.)
Step four: Make sure there is no one standing in your "swing zone," then whack away. (As they hammered, I asked, "Do you think you've broken it?" Many of the children had to work up to swinging hard enough to succeed, but they all knew when they'd managed it. Some were satisfied with a couple mighty blows, while others pounded away repeatedly.)
Step five: Unwrap your "present." ("I hope your present's broken," we said.)
The best part about using the ceramic tile instead of glass is that the resulting shards aren't all that sharp. In fact, we've used this process before to smash up tiles to use for art projects, so I knew we could handle them, gingerly, without getting cut.
As we sorted through the destruction, we talked about the shapes we had made (triangles, squares, "houses," etc.) and also noted which pieces were "sharp" and would cut us had they been glass.
And like before, at some point, one of the children pointed out, "This isn't dangerous." And he was right.