Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dangerous Hammers

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 threw spears, we tried licking 9-volt batteries, we broke glass, and set out to master the perfect somersault. Yesterday, we hammered nails.

I know, I know, this blog is lousy with pictures of children driving nails, cutting with saws, and drilling with hand drills. What's the big deal? Nothing at all. Learning basic proficiency with basic hand tools is just one of the things we do at Woodland Park, starting with the 2-year-olds. I won't go into hammer safety here, since I've already covered that fairly extensively in the post Two-Year-Olds With Hammers, although I will mention that with our larger new outdoor classroom, we are finding we don't need to put quite as much effort into creating our "safety perimeter" because we're more spread out in the space, and other types of play is far less likely to accidentally spill over into our work zone.

When the proper school year starts and our new batch of 2-year-olds arrives we will, as a community, revisit our safety concerns, our worst fears about the behavior of young children, our worst fears about the potential for injuries. And even though we will have discussed these thing before the hammers ever come out, we will discuss them even more after they've made their first appearance. I suppose new parents have always let their imaginations go when it comes to protecting their little ones. We moved out of our 24th floor condominium when our daughter was born, in large part, because of my wife's fears of her somehow falling off the balcony. Our brains go there and it's sometimes impossible, once we're living in the adrenaline soaked world of catastrophic possibilities, to do anything other than act as if they are likelihoods.

At the same time most of us have made a kind of peace with the single greatest threat to our children's health and safety: cars. If we let our imaginations go about cars, we'd never leave the house.

The online ECE community has been all abuzz during the past 24 hours over the recent New York Times piece that asks the question: Can a Playground Be Too Safe? The piece starts by telling us that a city parks commissioner "drew a line in the sand" in the 1990's over the removal of a 10-foot high old-school jungle gym from a park near his home.

"I grew up on that monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot how good it felt to get to the top of the," Mr. Stern said. "I didn't want to see that playground bowdlerized. I said that as long as I was parks commissioner, those monkey bars were going to stay."

It's easy to imagine a young child falling from the top of play equipment as high as a second story window, and I'm sure children have, in fact, fallen from up there, but I played on those apparatuses and I don't recall it ever happening, nor does Mr. Stern, nor does anyone I know who has climbed to the top of one of them. We know they are "safe," or at least safe enough, but there is an entire generation of parents now who have known nothing but those fully enclosed, low-to-the-ground, heavily padded things that replaced the see saws, slides, and jungle gyms due to our imaginings about injury (and, frankly, lawsuits).

The Times article itself is worth a read, but if you really want to understand how our fears of "harmless injuries" can "stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone," I urge you to click on through to some of the writer's source material, especially this scholarly piece from Evolutionary Psychology.

In the meantime, the children of Woodland Park will grow up knowing that there's nothing at all dangerous about hammering a nail. In fact, they'll expect there to always be a hammer at hand in case they need it.

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Robin said...

If anyone out there is in the market for great kid hammers these are by far the best I've found,53193&ap=1

Made for adults (balanced and effective) but the perfect size for toddlers/kids.

Jeanne Zuech said...

Tom - I suppose children and safety will always create a discussion, no matter the generation or space or tools or whatever. Don't know if I wrote to you when you first posted your "hammers w/2year olds" post but it was a HUGE topic in the course I was teaching for student-teachers! (I used blogs as reading/essay assignments). The debate was so rich among these new teachers - loved it.

Chance Family said...

Love this post and so agree. We do this with our own children at home for sure (kids had the hammer today actually). I wish though that those in charge of the regulations could understand these concepts as well. According to licensing regulations here, you cannot have a slide (or probably climber too) that is higher that double the height of the smallest child. if you have a small 2 yr old that really doesn't make for a tall structure. Also a few years ago we had some wood logs in our playground and were cited as them being a danger.Not sure why but sometimes people get a spur and think kids need to be wrapped in bubble wrap or something.

MT said...

Love it, first time over from a link on FreeRangeKids. A few years ago when my boys were 3 and 4, they were armed with nails and a hammer at a Swiss open air museum. The 4 year old also tried working with a straight edge plane. They loved it and I managed not to have a heart attack. I wrote about it here:
Now I'm off to check out your other posts!

The Schneldales said...

One day in your life, you will find yourself within a few hours' drive of St. Louis, Missouri. When that happens, please do everything you can to visit The City Museum.

Photos on their Web site barely skim the surface of its offerings, and no words I type could fully describe a single aspect of it. It is "art" - climbable, slidable, diggable, crawlable, rollable, art - inside and out.

And it's dangerous as all get-out. Each time I go, I am amazed they were able to pass it all by x and y silly codes. But I'm so, so glad they did. You will be, too.

Teacher Tom said...

Arg! You hit on one of the great regrets of my life The Scheneldales!

I was in St. Louis for a family reunion and my relatives who live there NEVER mentioned the City Museum. Then one of the families from my school got to go.

Here's the post I wrote about it:

I feel so left out!!!!!!