Motherhood gets celebrated with sweet cards and sweet-smelling flowers. But there's something to be said for Moms With an Edge. And for that, I find 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) to be the perfect counterprogramming.
It has become our family's bucket list for the summer, the perfect antivenin for helicoptering moms that I am afraid to say I can be sometimes. While the title sounds radical, the challenges in the book are straight out of our own childhoods, like No. 10: "Walk Home From School." Really? This is a "dangerous" challenge? So here's our first round of challenges:
#1 Lick a 9-volt battery. Who doesn't have a memory of hunching down with friends daring each other to hold that metallic sparky sensation to their tastebuds the longest? My husband and I didn't hesitate on that one and were more than game to do it first. The leery kids would have none of it.
#14 Put strange stuff in the microwave. This is the one I was wary of, envisioning fires, messes and a damaged microwave. The kids were jazzed. By the way, Easter basket Peeps in the microwave are hilarious, growing to gigantic Godzilla Peeps before dissolving into a pool of smoky, pastel-colored mud. The book has a website attached to each challenge, so you can go online and share your stories and ideas with others. We jumped on looking for new microwave ideas, because I'm embarrassed to report that this task entertained us for more than an hour.
#7 Drive a car. Oh, heck no, I say. The instructions are to find a big empty parking lot, slide the seat way back so the adult can work the pedals and let the child steer, making small turns so he or she gets a feel for how the car responds. Under the "WHY" section listed for each task in the back of the book it makes the good point that "children spend so much time being driven around in cars that they take the process for granted." I can testify to that, having been asked to please read something for my 8-year-old while I'm barreling down I-275. So I have to say I'm warming to this one.
#9 Make a bomb in a bag. Sounds gnarly, doesn't it? With that kind of title the kids were begging for it. The formula, however, is no riskier than any science fair volcano project. Put some vinegar and hot water in a bag. Add a packet of baking soda wrapped in a paper towel in a big plastic zippered bag and throw that mother as far away as you can from women and children. And then . . . the baking soda and vinegar just fizz and the bag kind of expands. Needless to say this challenge was a big bust, for the kids at least.
In the end, the tasks in the book are truly not dangerous. But it's a great antidote to our contemporary cushioned-cornered child-rearing that aims to save kids from any bump, bruise or mild irritation.
And for kids, it's a good exercise to challenge "danger" like baking soda bombs and realize they are more than capable.
"Of course we must protect our children. That's the promise we make to them as a society," authors Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler write. "But when protection becomes overprotection we fail as a society because children don't learn how to judge risk for themselves."
Tulley, a self-taught computer scientist who holds a number of technology patents, founded the Tinkering School outside San Francisco in 2005, a summer camp that encourages kids to play with fire and knives, throw spears, build things and take risks.
In 2009 he gave a talk titled "5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do." The video went viral and grew into the 50 Dangerous Things book.
The book resembles a field guide, with space for notes and completion dates and easy-to-follow instructions, with sidebars explaining some of the scientific or historical context for the experiment.
But the goal, the authors note, is to help children "understand the difference between that which is unknown (or unfamiliar) and that which is truly dangerous."
--Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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