Friday, November 16, 2012

Trusting Their Judgement

When I first saw this, I had to fight the instinct to put a stop to it. In a flash, I'd done my adult risk assessment:

  1. Plastic trucks not designed to be sat upon, especially by these large 5-year-old bodies
  2. Concrete slope
  3. Short runway with a raised planting bed made of wood at the bottom
  4. Even if these competent kids could manage it, their success might lure less competent friends to try it
  5. Tender flesh and precious heads

I made it to the scene before anyone had put themselves at the mercy of gravity saying the first thing that came to my lips, "That doesn't look safe to me."

He looked at me, then down the slope. "It's safe."

"I'm worried you'll get hurt."

He gave the scene another once-over, then spoke from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy sitting on a plastic digger at the top of a concrete slope, thinking about his own life and limb, "I won't get hurt." 

This is a boy who tends to look before he leaps, usually not the first in line for a risky venture, but rather more typically third or fourth, peering around those in front of him to observe what's going on, learning from their mistakes. In that moment, I tried to imagine what he saw, returning me briefly to my days as a 5-year-old boy who had made similar risk assessments. In the backs of both of our minds, I think, was the much longer, steeper concrete slope in our outdoor classroom, the one we both felt would be too big a risk. Daredevils might try it, but not us.

"Okay, I'll be here to pick you up if you fall."

With that he let himself go down the short ride, stopping so abruptly against the planting bed that the rear wheels were lifted of the ground. There was a little triumph behind his smile.

When he started dragging his truck back up the slope, I stopped worrying about him, turning my attentions to the safety of the planting bed and the second boy who, having witnessed the success, was now steering a truck of his own into place.

I said, "Wait! I don't want you guys to wreck the garden." The boys waited one behind the other as I dropped a car tire on the ground. "You can run into this."

As the boys took turns in this game of speed, slope, and impact, I began to worry again as other kids stopped by to check things out. I was sure that this was the time for physically less capable children to want their turns, emboldened beyond their reason by the success of these first two. But one after another they watched, then moved on to other things, the monkey-see-monkey-do chain reaction I'd feared not in evidence.

I might have let my fears over-ride the superior risk assessment capabilities of the boys. Instead, I trusted their judgement, while being near to pick them up if they fell.

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ACsMama said...

Wonderful! This is in stark contrast to something I witnessed a few weeks ago at the school where I am a teacher - a co-worker told the second-graders not to go on the monkey bars because they were "too high" and were meant for the older children. I reminisced about my second-grade days removing my shoes and socks and running across the tops of the monkey bars... (and I have never had a broken bone in my life!). Kids are actually a lot better at judging their own limits than we give them credit for - especially if they have lots of practice testing their own limits!

Ashley Snow said...

Hi Mr. Tom,

My name is Ashley and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. Your post was great and was very informative for future educators. As a future educator I believe I would have reacted the same way thinking of all the bad things that could possibly happen. Children are always eager to do the opposite of what you tell them, because they have their own judgement of the task at hand. I agree with your title we need to trust our students judgement. I really enjoyed reading this post!!

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