Safety Second (Or Maybe Even Third)

Hi fbdkbntbeb
Folks! Here’s new wisdom from Michigan’s Heather Shumaker, author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids . She’s a speaker, blogger and advocate for free play and no homework for young children.  Hey — so am I! L.

Safety Second – 3 Risks Young Kids Need by Heather Shumaker

Sometimes it seems as if SAFETY has become a parent’s only job.  Stop running!  Be careful!  You’ll get wet! Put that stick down before someone gets hurt!

As caregivers, our job is to keep kids safe.  But it’s not our only job.  As the old saw goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Risk is essential.

A “Safety First” mentality can freeze us. If safety is the only consideration, it can actually hurt our kids.  Kids need all kinds of risk to become competent human beings.  Here’s a sampling of the kinds of risks kids need.

Physical Risk

Kids become safer as they gain experience using their bodies. Say yes to tree climbing, wall walking and stick playing.  Show kids how to fall properly (rolling) and avoid real dangers (cliffs; busy streets).

  • Drop ‘Be Careful’  – “Be careful!” is vague and alarmist.  Say nothing or offer specific information: “Look at your feet.”  “You’re near the edge.”  “Someone is behind you.”
  • Don’t rescue  – Don’t lift kids out of a tree if they’re stuck.   Guide them instead: “Where could you put your foot next?”  Kids are partners in their own safety.
  • Check in – Asking “Do you feel safe?” is a good reality check for kids.  It forces them to assess the situation (Gosh, no, I don’t feel safe) and fix it.

The Risk:  Yes, they could get hurt.  Mostly skinned knees.  Major harm is possible, but riding in a car is far riskier.

Social Risk

Risk pops up in friend making, too.  If we insist all kids play with each other (“you can’t say you can’t play), then we’re depriving kids of essential opportunities to practice social skills and navigate friendships.

  • Allow friends to be together  It’s OK for a child to say “No, I don’t want to play right now.”  Kids have the right to choose their playmates. They also have the right to choose to be alone.
  • Rejection isn’t evil   Kids don’t have to like everyone they meet (adults don’t).  They do have to learn how to treat everyone respectfully. Rejection is not necessarily mean – in fact, it can be a great teacher of social skills.
  • Rejection brings resilience  Experiencing a bit of rejection helps kids realize it’s not the end of the world if someone says ‘no.’  They can recover and go on.

The Risk: Yes, they could get their feelings hurt – and learn resilience and empathy.

Creative Risk

Risk comes through ideas, too.  Whether it’s dramatic make-believe games, art or stories, kids need time and support for creative ideas.

  • Art without models -  Ever see a line of identical pumpkin faces tacked up on the classroom wall?  No art or creativity there.  That’s practice with scissors and glue.  Go ahead and demonstrate techniques, but let kids express their own ideas.
  • Seek basic toys  – The best toys serve multiple purposes.  Think blankets, hats, capes, sticks, cardboard, play dough.  Many toys sold in stores are “single-purpose” and can limit creative play.
  • Unstructure the day  – Ideas need space and time.  So do kids!  Free up the day.

 The Risk: Yes, they might make a mistake.

So safety, yes, but keep safety in perspective.  Risk and safety are both parts of being alive. – H.S.

Choose me!


57 Responses to Safety Second (Or Maybe Even Third)

  1. Jenna K. May 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    This is great. I love this.

  2. Nicole May 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Great article!! I love that social and creative risk were included too.

  3. Maresi May 13, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I like this a whole lot – I second the appreciation for the social/creative risks being included.

  4. Stephanie May 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I love it. My daughter’s preschool program has parents/caregivers attending during the classes for 3 year olds, and this means the parents/caregivers helping the kids do the various projects during the day. The problem is that too many essentially do the projects for the kids. My daughter is still figuring out how to use scissors, but I at least make sure she tries to cut things out each time, and she has free access to a pair at home. Her school projects often end up sloppier than the other kids’, but they’re much more hers.

  5. dan May 13, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Ugh. That “a line of identical pumpkin faces tacked up on the classroom wall” made me cringe.

    When I was in first grade, our teacher had us make egg-shaped people for Easter out of construction paper and stuff. The idea, unbeknownst to 6-year-old me, was that they were going to be tacked up on the wall with the hands all joined together with some generic “unity” type theme displayed over it. Well…I made my egg into a cat. My teacher was pissed. She kinda haphazardly tossed my egg-cat onto the display, off to the side, where it wouldn’t throw the “unity” off. And I actually got reamed out for not following the directions.

    Which technically, yeah, she had a point. I was supposed to sick two arms and two legs on a pre-cut egg-shaped piece of construction paper and draw a smiley face on it, whereas I turned the paper on its side and stuck four legs (and a tail) on it and drew a cat’s face. I thought I was being artistic and clever, you know, taking the anthropomorphic egg theme a step further and turning into a felinomorphic(?) egg but instead I was branded a bad kid who didn’t follow directions.

    It really hurt me too, coz I was *always* the kid who did what he was told and never acted out. I was not trying to push anyone’s buttons do anything ornery, I genuinely thought my egg-cat idea was going to be well received. But nope, creativity = baaaad.

    I’m scarred for life, as you can tell. Man, screw those eggs.

  6. Earth.W May 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Yes, play with sticks. Be careful of the eyes. Stay clear of the face and have fun. Lots of it.

  7. Beth May 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Great article! More schools should follow this philosophy. It always angers me when I hear from a school “Your child’s safety is our first priority”. No. My child’s education should be your first priority, followed maybe by not treating them like they’re in prison.

    Sure, some safety needs exist. But not “safety” to the point that a mom bringing cupcakes for a class party is assumed to be a criminal until proven otherwise, and then must be allowed passage through numerous locked doors and ID statons.

  8. Jessica Scott May 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    This post was amazing! I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only person who feels this way! My parents are always worried about my kids. If they climb a tree, they are forced to get out of it. (They never forced me out of a tree when I was little and I turned out fine.) Heaven forbid they venture 10 feet away from their front door. Ugh! I can’t stand over-protectiveness. I consider it the wussification of america. I totally get what you’re saying and thanks for this!

    ~Jessica Scott

  9. Emily May 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Another thing with Play-Doh–it’s probably best to buy JUST the Play-Doh, and some “open ended” tools (plastic knives, cookie cutters, maybe a garlic press, or that thing that makes it into ropes of different shapes, etc. Play-Doh started as a creative toy, but now there are all kinds of “activity kits” for it–the barber shop where you press out the clay through holes in the tops of the plastic people’s heads as “hair,” and then cut it with plastic scissors, the “drill and fill” dentist kit, and the McDonald’s and Baskin Robbins kits that make pretend hamburgers, fries, and ice cream. I had the flower basket kit when I was maybe five or so (I got it as a gift from my uncle, I think), but other than that, my brother and I just played with Play-Doh as is, because my parents didn’t want to go out and buy a whole bunch of “single-purpose” toys to use with our supposedly open-ended Play-Doh. Also, while we’re at it, it’s not even necessary to buy Play-Doh; you can make your own with flour, salt, water, and food colouring.

  10. Mike in Virginia May 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    But the kids might EAT the Playdoh!!! (which is 100% safe, by the way), but for some reason I have trouble convincing other parents of that fact.

  11. hineata May 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    @Dan – oops, I’ve been that teacher, LOL! That sort of time you’re describing, it’s not about art, it’s about getting something on the wall to impress the principal/other staff/parents. Or about giving the teacher ten peaceful seconds to talk to little Alfredina about her violent lunchtime tendencies.

    And maybe also about checking who can follow instructions :-). But not about art.

    Personally I would try to track that teacher down and make her an omelette – out of tacky paper eggs. Me, I am constantly worried about ex pupils tracking me down and nailing me to some kind of paper cross – the joys of working in Catholic schools, LOL!

  12. dan May 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    Yeah, that’s how Legos are now. It used to be you’d get a set that included the instructions on how to make a castle, boat, etc but were actively encouraged to build your own creations AND blend them with other kits to make entirely original things. Now you just buy the kit, follow the directions exactly, and now you have a replica of Millennium Falcon. Cool yes, but not terribly creative.

  13. dan May 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    @hineata — but surely you don’t strip down an otherwise good kid, make him feel like crap, and make an example of him, right? That’s what I was getting at.

  14. Ravana May 13, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    The “art” thing isn’t new. I got in a dispute (okay, many disputes, this was one) with the preschool teachers where I was doing an internship for a child development class in high school (way back in the dark ages). They were doing “art” and everyone was to draw a snowman with a top hat, a scarf, a carrot nose, 3 buttons, two stick arms and a broom. This snowman was to be positioned on the top of a hill. One child added a very good drawing of a boy sledding down the hill and she got in trouble.

    After the lesson I pulled the teacher aside and asked how the child could be in trouble for adding something to her drawing. “She did not follow the instructions.” said the teacher. I said, “But, it was ‘art’ time and art implies creativity.” The teacher replied, “We expect them to follow the instructions and draw what we tell them to draw.” I said, “Then call it patterning time or direction following time and don’t call it art.” I got a very bad review from that preschool…

  15. hineata May 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    @Emily and Mike – Playdoh is hellishly expensive. Why not just make it? Then you know it’s 100% safe, LOL!

    Love this article, especially the part about the sticks. Stick finding and using is a great way for a child to check out their relative strength against other kids. I once sent five and six year old kids off to find sticks and leaves for some kind of class display. One of them returned with a shrub, almost as big as himself, that he’d ripped out of the priest’s garden! No drinkies for me that week….but no one ever messed with that kid!

  16. lollipoplover May 13, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    I get so sick of the Safety first attitudes and all of the absurdity that goes with it. Let kids run at parks (where else are they supposed to run?) but not in restaurants.
    And play with sticks and pick them up! They make great kindle for outdoor bonfires.

    My son pointed this article out to me. He doesn’t understand how they can call them *deadly* if they haven’t actually killed anyone….

  17. Buffy May 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Wait! Something is wrong with Play Doh now?

  18. Papilio May 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Haha, the art creativity thing sounds familiar to me, too: my primary school teachers should’ve read this. Not that they were negative about kids not following the example exactly (I never did), but they also never really encouraged children to be creative, to do stuff just a bit different. I remember we were going to make piglets out of a balloon (yes, we could inflate those ourselves) and papier-maché, and apparently we were really expected to make a pig. Why?
    Since I was a VERY shy child, I think I actually had my mother, who volunteered there (without background check), ask my teacher (so much for FRK – and I still dare to comment here! Sorry L 🙂 ) if I was allowed to not make a pig. My bright colored snail has been sitting on top of my book case for years 🙂

  19. hineata May 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    @Dan – I would love to say I’ve never done that, but I’m sure I have at times. In fact I know I’ve had my psycho moments. So sincere apologies to my poor students. But yes, I haven’t usually had them over ‘art’, and I make a habit of apologising afterward if I have been OTT. And seldom do the generally well-behaved get targeted…..

    In all seriousness, teachers are very human. I usually get around being cross these days by pretending to rip my hair out, or threatening to sacrifice various children. And the kids know not to cross me in the computer suite, because that’s the part of the day most likely to make me homicidal/suicidal…..But making a kid feel small – yep, that’s pretty crappy. That’s where adults need to learn to back down and apologise to kids if they have behaved wrongly toward them. So your teacher should have done that for you. Presumably she didn’t consider herself in the wrong, which is sad.

  20. Rodney C. Davis May 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    I remember clearly how afraid I was to venture outside in the dark of the night even when I wasn’t a toddler any more.It took some doing for my older brothers to encourage me to do it. The “encouragement” came in subtle ways sometimes. At other times it was funny, or even a little dangerous. I therefore had to risk being tricked, risk being laughed at, or risk being hurt. But each time, there was something to gain by gathering up the necessary courage.. the heart to overcome fear.

    Over-protecting children rob them of that opportunity. Without courage, the timid heart has nothing to esteem in itself. I’m loving this blog.It’s great knowing there are others out there calling parents to remember that overdoing safety actually sabotages psychological development

  21. Natalie May 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    There’s the Lego creator line, which keeps in line with The ideal of making your own creation instead of just one thing described in the set. It’s also not gender specific, which I like.
    That being said, the Death Star is awesome. I watched a you tube video of someone who put it together and demonstrated the various rooms.

  22. Donald May 13, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    It’s important for kids to LEARN how to be safe. We aren’t doing them a favor when we take on the roll of safety monitor for life and never allow the child to learn how to watch for their own safety. It won’t sink in or be understood if the only safety instructions are, Mommy doesn’t want you to do this because it’s not safe.” They can only learn it through necessity and practice.

    While this makes sense it will mean a few skinned knees and disappointments. Unfortunately for the children, this is something that some parents can’t handle.

  23. Eliza May 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    I say Yes, Yes, Yes to all of those rules. As a parent and someone who has anxiety and panic attacks, the physical safety aspect is very hard to follow. There are a lot of times that I turn my head or walk away for my own sanity and for my daughter’s sanity. This is strange for me, because I’m the person who rock climbs, has gone tandem skydiving and hang gliding. I have gone bungy jumping and lots of other very risky activities, but when it comes to my daughter, who has developed my risk taking gene I could become so over protective if I allow myself.

    As a teacher, don’t get me started on creative activities. I have so many stories of fighting for my students to make thier own creations, and having to explain why my wall displays are not as pretty as Miss Perfect next door. I did have a win when we had to enter art work from students to a local art competition. about 10 other schools and community groups plus individuals. My students ended up winning the children’s section, they also came runner up and third place. One child got runner up award for most popular child’s piece (this prize was determined on how many votes the viewing public gave it). I would throw this fact back when the Principal would comment on my individual wall displays.

  24. Natalie May 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    I had no idea that art displays were such a contentious subject among teachers.

  25. Puzzled May 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    The best part is the responses you get when you question the identical-art mentality. I get a lot of “well, they aren’t advanced enough for THAT kind of art yet, they have to learn the basics.” As if anyone learned anything that way – and as if the point was that the kids would need to master the skills of the artist because they were someday to be famous artists – instead of realizing that we have art in schools mainly to let kids express themselves and be creative.

    A mathematician a few years back wrote a great piece comparing current math education to bizarre ways to teach other fields. One example he gave was deciding that all kids need to learn art, and having, among other things, a Pre-Color-By-Numbers sequence, to get them ready for the high school level Color By Numbers 1-3, which have state mandated tests. When he imagines, in this world, asking about creativity and expression, a teacher responds “oh, you sound like this one weird professor I had who was always going on about blank canvas. Personally, I’ve never done blank canvas work – I just make sure I know all the sets the school district uses.”

    Little did he realize that this is actually done, to some degree.

  26. Jane May 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    I have really noticed the social skills thing with my own son. He’s three and really starting to want to play with other kids at the playground, so he’ll march up to somebody- any age, any size- and ask them politely if they want to play. Of course a 10 or 11 year old doesn’t want to play with my preschooler, but a lot of the bigger kids seem afraid to say no to him. They’ll sort of freeze up and not say anything at all, and he thinks they’re ignoring him and keeps asking. I’ve gone so far as to tell the bigger kids “It’s OK to say No thank you”. I *want* my son to learn polite rejection, and to learn that he shouldn’t bother a kid who’s already busy with something else.

  27. Frances May 13, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    I want to point out that Lego only has to stay in kits until you open the box. In my house we start out making the kits (which is great practice for figuring out how to read pictographs…small boy will be very good at assembling Ikea furniture someday) but usually once he’s figured out how the components work together, small boy has taken off in his own direction. Live wildly! Let your Legos be free!

  28. Eliza May 14, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    When my daughter was a toddler it was very trendy to have educational toy parties. You know the ones, just like a tuppaware party, but selling so called educational toys instead. One of the toys they were selling was the “Jungle building blocks,” or something like that. The selling point was that the child only needed to put 2-3 pieces of block together and they have created a realistic animal. Apparently when they showed you their creation (company’s words) your child wont feel like bad because you know exactly what it is and don’t have to use that phrase, “Wow that’s lovely, what is it? Not the worst part, but each piece has a unique join so kids cant put to wrong pieces together. When I asked the poor sales lady, what if my daughter wants to create an elelegiraf with monkey paws, the lady was dumbfounded and tried to explain that there is no such animal. I told her that in our home that animal does exists and unless they start selling blocks with that particular animal, we will not be buying anything from their company. Never got invited to a toy party again, and now my daughter is 13 eleegiraf with monkey paws still exists.

  29. Puzzled May 14, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    Am I bad for never using that phrase “it’s lovely, what is it?” I usually just say “what is it?” Or else I’ll stick with “a nice piece of art, that.”

  30. Natalie May 14, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    I don’t see the problem either. The kid gets a chance to explain what he did. Asking my girls what they made seemed to encourage them.

  31. Hels May 14, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Just remembering my own childhood… there were paper dolls you could buy and cut out their shapes and their clothes. However, what we liked the most was making clothes for them ourselves. So on rainy days we would sit there for hours drawing and coloring and cutting out something we have made. it may not have looked as good as the printed stuff, but it was a lot more fun. And we could save the money to buy ice cream instead!

    While my legos knock-off did come with a book showing different things you could make with them (never any instructions, just a photo of the finished product), I think I made only one or two of those, mainly I just did my own things…

    At school, I can’t remember how much freedom we had for art in elementary school… in middle school, our teacher was a well-known artist herself, so she would teach us techniques of the particular style, give us a theme – and off we went. Though I remember drawing stylized mice for half my class because for some reason that particular technique of animal drawing was difficult for a lot of them… and I only could do mice well in that style. So we ended up with a lot of similar projects that week.

    What little I remember of elementary school art, in embroidery we could use any technique we wanted after being shown three or four basic stitches (many of us, including myself, knew more than that from home already)… and any pattern whatsoever. When making stuffed animals, we were only provided patterns for kittens or bunnies, I think, but we had full choice in the material we used and in what we did with the eyes-nose-whiskers… My parents still have that kitten sewn of bright orange silk with green eyes and pink nose. I remember we all enjoyed it.

    In home economics, only in 5th grade we had to sew the same basic apron-pillow case- something else… in 6th and 7th grades we had full freedom of sewing whatever we wanted – except for simple A-line skirts because they were not challenging enough. Shorts, blouses, dresses, cut-off pleated skirts were a fair game. And we were using electric sewing machines, oh the horror! In cooking portion of that class, we had always a couple variations of the recipe to choose from. Like, making apple jam or apple preserves. Or a couple different styles of waffles. Or three different soup varieties, etc. We worked in groups with different groups choosing something different so then we could try each other’s stuff.

    My school was not known for encouraging creativity – most of the grads were funneled into engineering, healthcare, and other not so creative fields – but sounds like we got a lot more of it than a lot of school kids nowadays.

  32. Dave May 14, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    Great article. Common sense must rule the day. The rule we had with our kids and grandkids regarding risks like climbing trees was if you wanted to go up you had to come down by yourself. We would coach them down as the needed guidance but if we had to rescue them they couldn’t climb again until they were ready to climb down by themselves. My grandson has became a risk taker but always with the understanding that he needs to feel a certain level of comfort in what he tries.

  33. Emily Guy Birken May 14, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    The creativity thing resonated with me, too. When I was student teaching language arts in a middle school, I had a lesson for the kids about using descriptive language about fall, and I brought in some fall leaves and other fall “props” to help them work to come up with adjectives and metaphors about the season. Then, I taught them how to write a haiku using their descriptive language.

    The first class period I taught, several of the kids asked if they could do an acrostic poem instead, which I was totally okay with. I wanted them to learn the descriptive language, and that was the entire point of the lesson. The haiku was just a way to implement it.

    My cooperating teacher took me to task for letting the kids go “off-lesson.” Apparently, she wanted them to do exactly the lesson I had prepared, rather than let them get excited about writing a poem they could feel proud of. It was one of the most surreal experiences, because it became clear that the other three classes I taught (where I forced the haiku because I was just a lowly student teacher) were forced to be less creative and they ended up going through the motions, rather than enjoying the exercise. I really could not comprehend where my cooperating teacher was coming from.

  34. CLamb May 14, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    As I child I remember being told, “Get down from there before you fall.” and thinking “Do they really think I’m planning on falling?”

  35. nina May 14, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    I think there are small islands of sanity in this world. I recently went to my 3yo daughter’s preschool mothers day tea party that took place in their outdoor space/playground. The first thing that I noticed was that kids were in no way stopped when they wanted to use playground structures creatively. They were allowed to jump off 3 ft platform instead of using ladder to climb down, use side bars for sliding down and slides for climbing up and whatever else a bunch of 3yos can come up with. I saw one of the little boys having a hard time figuring out how to navigate a slide upwards. Then a caregiver stepped up and gave the boy verbal instructions on how to get up the slide. You should have seen the pride in that child’s eyes when he made it all the way to the top.

  36. Natalie May 14, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    Just one caveat- you do need creativity in engineering. Engineers are problem solvers and builders. Creativity is highly valued. I would imagine that creativity would also be in order with healthcare when faced with difficult or unpredictable situations.

  37. Bridget May 14, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Way back in the late 80s early 90s I was a daycare teacher. I was always amazed and dismayed at how freaked out parents would get over “creativity”. I had one parent complain to my director because of her son’s interpretation of his smile. It was teeth week and one of the art projects involved the kids using white paper to create teeth that were then glued onto their own drawings of a mouth. Everyone had a small hand mirror so that they could look at their faces. My involvement consisted of helping squeeze the glue and walking around giving encouragement. That was it. The kids were free to create their smile as they saw it. She was so pissed. She told my director that my projects were crap and her son was not learning anything. The director asked her what her vision of the project looked like. She said that all the “teeth” should have been pre cut by me and should look like teeth. The mouths should have been drawn by me. I should have instructed the kids to put the teeth on the mouth in the “correct” manner. My director asked her what that would have taught her son. Her answer? The proper way to view a mouth. My director asked what part of her vision represented her son’s creativity. She actually said that creativity was worthless and would not get her son anywhere in life. My director supported my teaching style and the mom ended up pulling her kid out. I really wonder what became of the boy. I never really thought of it as creative risk. But that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

  38. Alana M May 14, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Good article.

    I hate it when schools say “Your children’s safety is our first priority.” Really? I was kinda hoping it was education.

  39. Maggie May 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    My biggest pet peeve about the children’s “art” classes offered in my town is that they’re actually craft classes. I’m not much of an artist- I want someone to teach my daughter the techniques that I never learned. But apparently I’m the only parent who wants my child to learn HOW to draw and paint, and not just be told WHAT to draw and paint. The other parents, who do actually pay for these “classes”, just want to see their kid come home with a finished product.

  40. Uly May 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Bridget, I think that’s the worst one yet!

    When I used to take my nieces to an art program twice a week, I used to get so frustrated at the people who would outright do the art project at the end for their kids, or say “no, you’re doing that wrong, you have to do it the same way the teacher did it!” And then those people would marvel and compliment the girls’ creativity, and it took all my self control not to say “yeah, that’s what happens when you don’t wrestle the crayons away from the preschooler”.

  41. Uly May 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Incidentally, on that subject, this is a link I always like. It’s the penguins.

  42. Havva May 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    The creative risk section seems to have really hit a nerve and I can relate to that as well. Something about frog hats for passover that all looked exactly the same. Except for my toddler who made a delightfully googly eyed frog with it’s tongue going side ways instead of down.

    But what really struck me today was the social risk category. I was at my nephew’s birthday party this weekend and my husband commented that the nephew seemed withdrawn, and didn’t seem to be enjoying his own party. However he seemed to recover quickly when the guests left. He asked if these kids were really my nephew’s friends and if it was his idea to have such a huge party.

    I told him I thought his school had a rule that you couldn’t leave people out. That you either invited everyone, or you invited all the boys or all the girls. My husband was horrified, and immediately said.

    “I can’t imagine that. I wouldn’t have had birthday parties at all, if I had to invite everyone! That would have made me much less social.”

  43. anonymous this time May 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Dan, you’re my soul mate. I had a nearly identical experience as a 6-year-old in grade 1. I remember it was construction paper lanterns.

    What happened to me every time the materials were passed out and we got our scissors and glue ready, was I became overcome with the creative possibilities of the materials… this is what my parents encouraged in me. A real bait and switch, if you ask me. I was held up and ridiculed that day in school because my “lantern” was the “wrong” shape because I “hadn’t followed directions.” In fact, most of my report cards throughout grade school said something to that effect, along with, “She asks too many questions.”

    What’s the answer? More compliance for kids, or less directions from adults? I would say the latter.

  44. Claudia May 14, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Fantastic advice – I especially like the one about being specific rather than just saying ‘Be careful’ or ‘Watch out’ – not only does it take away the idea of risky things being automatically a danger or scary, but it also instills practical skills, eg how to climb a tree safely, how to be aware of other around you.

    Will be using that one and passing it on!

  45. Rachel May 14, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    I think some of the “single use” toys can be used for more.
    When little me and my sister and toy cars and they had their own characterization,stories and adventures. We also created homes and habitats out of cardboard for them.
    Any figurine,small doll or stuffed animal can be used as such.
    Play dough is always good as well. Outside pretending games don’t really need any toys except perhaps some sticks you can find. I never used more then that at least.sense I was never into superhero or cop and robber games. You can’t force a kid to play a game they don’t want to.

    The line of identical pumpkin faces tacked up on the classroom wall brings back memories,only with reindeer heads instead. At least I did real art and crafts at home. Grade Schools should have more open drawing and craft times.

  46. Puzzled May 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    Emily GB – I think you actually do know where she was coming from – you just prefer not to since it is so horrifying. The big problem, to me, is that so many people in the education profession really, truly, sincerely, do not like children. They think of childhood as a sort of disease, or worse, don’t recognize its existence at all. They just think of children as being very bad at being adults, and their task as fixing them. Of course, they also have screwed up ideas about the right ways for adults to think, but lucky for them, they match our society’s views.

  47. ebohlman May 15, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Bridget: With that particular mom, you were dealing the personality trait known as right-wing authoritarianism. Read Bob Altemeyer’s work on the subject (note that Altemeyer’s use of “right-wing” doesn’t directly correspond to how Americans understand political orientation; e.g. much of the leadership of the old Soviet Communist Party could be considered right-wing authoritarians). The e-book version of Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians is legitimately free.

    Havva: That “must invite every kid in the class” rule is part of misguided anti-bullying efforts, which are actually driven by risk-management concerns regarding mass shootings (largely based on a completely false narrative about Columbine). A cynic might also suspect lobbying on the part of Chuck-E-Cheese’s. I should note that such a rule isn’t just bad for kids who don’t like crowds; it’s bad for parents who can’t afford to pay 25-30 kids’ way for an event at a commercial venue.

  48. Emily May 15, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    About the “must invite every kid in the class (or all the boys, or all the girls)” rule, is that a blanket rule, or does it only apply if you’re planning on handing out the invitations at school? Because, if it’s the latter, wouldn’t it be possible to just pick up the phone and say, “Hello, Mrs. Walmartson. Yes, little Travis is turning six on Saturday. We’d love it if Tiffany could join us for a party at our house?” Lather, rinse, and repeat for each parent of Travis’ actual, real friends (or however many you can accommodate), or if you have Internet access, send an e-mail or Facebook message instead.

  49. Emily May 15, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    P.S., The “must invite every kid” rule is also bad for kids who legitimately want smaller parties. Yes, you can have a “whole class” party at pretty much any price point–cupcakes and Kool-Aid in the park, or cupcakes and hot chocolate at the skating rink or sledding hill, for example–but, there are only so many times you can do that before it gets boring, or the weather is bad, and moves the whole party indoors, where chaos ensues. So, what’s a parent to do when their child politely asks, “Could I please have a sleepover for my birthday, with just three friends?” Do they have to tell them, “No, the school won’t allow it?”

  50. Mark Roulo May 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Puzzled: “A mathematician a few years back wrote a great piece comparing current math education to bizarre ways to teach other fields. One example he gave was deciding that all kids need to learn art, and having, among other things, a Pre-Color-By-Numbers sequence, to get them ready for the high school level Color By Numbers 1-3, which have state mandated tests. When he imagines, in this world, asking about creativity and expression, a teacher responds ‘oh, you sound like this one weird professor I had who was always going on about blank canvas. Personally, I’ve never done blank canvas work – I just make sure I know all the sets the school district uses.’

    Little did he realize that this is actually done, to some degree.”

    You are remembering “A Mathematician’s Lament” by Paul Lockhart. It starts like this:

    “A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. ‘We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.’ Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or

    Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious
    black dots and lines must constitute the ‘language of music.’ It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school.”

  51. BMS May 15, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    My kids are hugely, screamingly artistic. My older son figured out drawing in perspective on his own at age 5. He spends almost all his free time sketching, making models out of wood, clay, styrofoam – anything that isn’t nailed down. I let him start dabbling in oils when he was 7 because he wanted to try it. Art is just in this kid’s blood. But both of my kids have sometimes hated art class in school because it was so borrrring and they had to do this one thing, this one way. I know the reason behind it – teaching techniques, throwing in a little art history here and there, but when Picasso Jr. is dreading art class, something is wrong. The good thing is that the 6th grade art class seems to have a bit more freedom, so I get fewer complaints this year.

  52. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt May 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    I love these ideas — very much in line with what I like to do with my girls.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  53. Donna May 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    @Emily – The must-invite-everyone rule is usually just for invitations handed out in class. Yes, you can just pick up the phone/email if you happen to know the phone number and/or email address for all your kid’s friends. For those of us who prefer to allow our children to handle their friendships by themselves without having to develop our own relationships with the parents of said friends, it is much easier for the kids to hand out invitations at school (camp, dance class or where ever Jr. knows the kid he wants to invite) than to try to dig up the phone numbers or email addresses of strangers.

  54. Beth May 16, 2013 at 4:41 am #

    “I told him I thought his school had a rule that you couldn’t leave people out. That you either invited everyone, or you invited all the boys or all the girls. My husband was horrified……”

    I would be horrified that the school thought they had any say in who my child invited to a birthday party, regardless of the manner in which it was done. And btw, not wanting certain kids at your party is not the same as bullying them.

  55. Emily May 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    @Donna–That sounds like a lose-lose situation, then. If you want your kids to handle friendships by themselves by handing out their birthday-party invitations at school/camp/dance class/soccer/Brownies/whatever, then they have to invite everyone (or, all of one gender). That’s not really “handling friendships themselves,” because it doesn’t truly allow the child to choose his or her own friends independently. When I was in kindergarten, I think I knew my phone number, and my best friend’s phone number, but that was it. If I’d had to remember/write down any more than that, I’d probably have made a mistake with someone’s number, or lost the list, or something. This was before e-mail, and long before Facebook, so the only alternative would have been mailing addresses, which would have been much harder. So, back then, we handed out invitations at school, but we were just taught to do it subtly, so as not to hurt the feelings of the non-invitees. Some kids did the “invite all, or all of one gender” thing, but my parents didn’t allow that–they said “one guest per year of age.” In kindergarten, that worked out in my favour, because there were only five girls in my kindergarten class, including me, and I turned six towards the very end of kindergarten, but most of the time, my parents just told me that they could only accommodate so many guests. We weren’t poor; it’s just that our dining table is only so big, and my mom did most of the birthday-party preparations herself, so that lent itself more to smaller parties, so she wouldn’t be stuck making thirty alligator hats (or whatever). My parents made this “life lesson” fun by illustrating it to me with this book:

  56. Lissa May 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    One of my dear friends is a very gifted artist. Especially when it comes to drawing. He actually said to me once, “I really think it’s because my mom would only let us use blank sheets of paper to draw on. I never had a coloring book.”


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