THE BLOG
01/11/2014 06:34 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2014

Should We Encourage Kids to Play With Dangerous Things?

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering school, shares his radical views denouncing child safety regulations. In his recent TED Talk, he mocks safety warnings like: bags of marshmallows that say don't eat more than one at a time and on plastic items that warn people of the dangers of suffocating when using the product. His tinkering school is a summer program designed to help kids build things while using dangerous equipment.

Tulley encourages parents to stop the trend of restricting kids from playing with dangerous things. In fact, he designed an entire program that encourages children to play with dangerous things for six days; in his tinkering school kids learn how to build things by experimenting with sharp knives, real power tools and other "mysterious" elements like fire. Tulley says that this kind of play enables young kids to become more adept, resourceful, creative and even safer while doing what kids naturally like to do: explore the world around them. According to Tulley, playing with dangerous things at a young age helps a child develop his critical thinking and fine motor skills that improves their ability to solve problems.

Parents need to use their discretion and recognize the limits and abilities of their own children. While tinkering could be great for some kids it could be catastrophic for others. -- Beth Kuhel


Tulley quips that, "We seem to think that any item sharper than a golf ball is too sharp for children under the age of 10." His tinkering school allows kids to be trusted with dangerous items so they can learn how to manage them without getting hurt. Tulley serves as a collaborator and helps kids by giving them lots of tools and materials and allows them the time and space to make things that they think of.

It's interesting that Tulley doesn't have children of his own and he jokes that instead he borrows his friends' children. Perhaps that's why he's able to be less protective of kids than the average parent. He also is open about what happens to kids in his tinkering school saying that kids will come back "bruised, scraped and bloody."

I give Tulley credit in that his goal isn't to expose kids to dangerous items for its own sake. His goal is to expose them to these things so they learn to manage them and become more competent, creative and aware of how things work in the world. It's difficult for parents to overlook the dangers in using these items but perhaps Tulley is right that as a society we are over protective of our kids and thereby stunt their ability to be creative.

The kids who learn to take apart everyday household machines (like a broken dishwasher) may eventually become the inventors and engineers who build better machines using their newly developed problem solving skills. Tulley says, "they're going to learn things that you can't get out of playing with Dora the Explorer toys."

As a parent of two Millennials, I'm glad that somehow my kids learned to: use the stove, light the gas grill, manage using a power tool, drive a car, make a bon-fire/fire pit, change the flapper on the toilet, manage their reputation on social media along with knowing how to code. I'm not so sure that as a society we need to introduce these dangerous items as early as Tulley says, as kids don't all mature at the same rate. For some kids this kind of experience could be overwhelming and too much for them to handle. Not all kids are mature enough to handle power tools at eight years old but they may be able to when they're fifteen. Parents need to use their discretion and recognize the limits and abilities of their own children. While tinkering could be great for some kids it could be catastrophic for others.

I believe that most kids learn how to use these dangerous objects when they need to and like everything else today...introducing things early, like power tools, fire and pocket knives to elementary school children could be viewed as another way of rushing kids to grow up. At the same time, for those who feel their kids can benefit from tinkering, I'd love to see the amazing innovations that will come from their work.

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