I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and saw a link to an article called, “The Overprotected Kid”. It talked about a park in North Wales called The Land where there are no brightly coloured, ergonomically designed play centres. Instead there are piles of old wooden pallets, an old 45-gallon drum for fires, and whatever other pieces of used things get put there. It looks like a dump and kids absolutely love it!
(If I did it right, this link should open the article in a new window for you to read it through yourself) http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/
The best part about it was that as I was reading through, I could see myself doing all sorts of things like that when I was young. My grandparents lived on a farm and we spent most weekends and holidays there, usually surrounded by a vast group of cousins who were older than me so already knew the best ways to play (and the best ways to not get caught doing it!)
I was 10 years old when I first learned to drive a motorcycle. Taught by my cousin who, at 13, of course knew everything about such a skill. I’m sure that my parents and grandparents watched with their hearts in their throats but that’s all they did, watch. They let me figure out on my own if I could do it, they wouldn’t even come and help me when I couldn’t get it started. (I seem to recall that we used to have to roll it down the driveway while jumping on the kicker in order to get it going)
For the most part we were on our own. We would explore the forest (Papa always liked it when we brought back used shells, dropped by hunters, that we always found!), we knew where all the good hiding places were in the junk yard (and which of those hiding places had already been taken over by hornets), we would break off a cob of corn and get deliberately lost in the corn field and then try to follow our corn path back. Most of time we managed to present ourselves in time to the dinner table with nothing worse than a scrape or two which were largely ignored by the adults.
Of course there were times when we would need the intervention of a responsible adult but we had to request such aid ourselves. I distinctly remember one visit where my cousin fell off of a combine that we had been playing on as if it were a jungle gym and one of us had to go and raise the alarm. I’m not really sure if he ended up with a concussion but, if he did, it certainly wasn’t his first, or last! (Oddly enough, on a trip out west for a family reunion in 1979 that same cousin set a haystack on fire that had all kinds of adults running!) Another time, another cousin. The two of us were riding the motorbike through the fields (as we often did, Papa didn’t really like us near the road) when we fell through a broken drainage tile. Down we went with the bike on top of us, the super-hot exhaust pipe just inches away from our bare legs. I’m sure an adult would have come running in that case but we were too far away from the house and, regardless, one of us would have had to get unstuck in order to get help.
What did we do? We figured it out ourselves, that’s how we learned that it might be a good idea to wear long pants when riding a motorcycle with an exhaust pipe running along the seat right by one’s thigh. That’s how we learned that wet farm machinery looks really fun but you might want to check that your shoes have adequate traction before scaling the giant Massey. We learned that if you go into a field full of corn that’s taller than you, you make darn sure you can find your own way out.
I am really looking forward to moving my family out to that same farm. I want my boys to learn to fend for themselves, find entertainment and new knowledge in the most unlikely of places and not be afraid to explore the world around them.
I know that I will be watching anxiously through the window (I designed the house so I could see out on all sides!) but I will do my absolute best to let my kids learn, play, succeed, fail and, yes, bleed a little all on their own.