Why You Should Play With Fire

We gain an extensive sense of self as we experiment with dangerous objects. We connect with the basic rules of survival. ~ Gever Tulley – author of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)

by Pete Ferguson

Several years ago I was struck by a TED presentation by Gever Tulley – who discussed the harm of not allowing children to explore and play in “dangerous” subjects. The quote above is what started him down a journey which has led him to co-founding a school based on allowing children to learn through experimentation.

Gever has a very simple premises: Kids need to break out and do all of the “can’t” adults have limited themselves with.

I personally grew up with a collection of pocket knives, we shot each other with bb guns, we played tackle football during recess without any safety gear, we rode bikes without helmets, and jumping off the garage roof was a rite of passage into adolescence.

I remember well in fourth grade when the principal called us into his office and outlawed tackle football on school grounds. I recall him apologetically saying something about new insurance regulations.

He might as well have cancelled Christmas.

This was the beginning of “growing up” for me – learning the limitations of socially acceptable behavior.

Some time that same year our cousin from California came to visit. My brother Matt and I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to shoot bb guns with us.

For Matt and I, when using the word “dangerous” in association to guns, the description was associated with a deer-hunting rifle, shot gun, or hand gun.

BB guns were for getting shot in a low-risk environment, understanding the fear and pain of mishandled guns. Matt and I used to shoot items off each other’s heads and outstretched arms.

It sounds criminal as I type it out so many years later when everything comes with a warning label.

Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to do all five of Gever’s suggestions in his TED talk and many of the expanded 50 in his book. While we didn’t have CDs to rip, just about every cassette player came with two decks and a “high-speed dubbing” feature, encouraging people to copy tapes and later CDs.

I remember my first time at the wheel, my grandpa was bringing us back from a fishing expedition and he told me to sit on his lap and drive.

No one died. No one was harmed. I went probably a maximum of 15 MPH on a deserted road along the back of the pond.

It was exhilarating. It gave me a huge ego boost that took a long time to wear off. I couldn’t believe an adult trusted me enough to allow me to drive.

Children have little understanding of consequence and a maximum desire to explore the world through action. Limiting a child to only theoretical experimentation of his or her environment is like discussing how good chocolate tastes through pictures and videos only.

Go build a fire, lick a 9-volt battery, or break out a box of Lego bricks or Play-Dough this week and see what creative juices start flowing. Then do something a little dangerous to top it all off!


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