Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones

Sticks and stones may break your bones...but not if you use them sensibly.

I know two young boys who grew up with knives. They learnt how to use knives correctly. They weren't cocooned in bubble wrap to protect them from possible injury. As a kid, I was taught how to play with fire. It still fascinates me and I still treat it with respect. I've never burnt myself, or another, but I have cut myself occasionally. Pity I never learnt to use knives correctly!

One school I taught in had a thriving gumnut economy. This primary school had a wonderful back playground (away from the demented soccer section), where many kids had built shelters from branches and sticks laid against trees, plus scraps they brought from home. As the community grew, they instinctively developed a need to barter and trade. Somehow, a gumnut economy was born. I can't remember all the details, but the kids collected gumnuts and used them to barter with each other. We had a few rumblings like "Oh no, they're playing with sticks." but luckily the kids were sensible and the sticks were used for good not evil. What a wonderful example of creative play!

I believe we should encourage our kids to use tools, and teach them how to use tools correctly. Sure they might cut or bruise themselves. As Gever Tulley says, "They're young; they heal fast!" Sticks and stones were primitive man's first toys, weapons, counters, tools. Let's not ban them from kids' lives; rather let's ensure our kids know how to use them safely. 

Who is Gever Tulley? He established Tinkering School where kids get to tinker with power tools and play with sophisticated sticks. You can find out more in this TED video below. It just boggles my mind that these kids managed to build their own roller coaster!

(If this is a subject that interests you, I enjoyed reading two great articles about play recently. One by Teacher Tom, Just Try to Stop Us, and another I linked to from Paper Tigers, Returning to Childhood: Lessons from a Six Year-Old by Tom O'Leary.) 


  1. Kanti Joshi08 June, 2010

    Hi...your blog has been a great resource...
    This might interest you:

  2. Book Chook08 June, 2010

    Thank you Kanti and welcome to The Book Chook. I know Arvind Gupta's wonderful site, and think it is so useful, I actually wrote a post about it. You can read it here:http://www.thebookchook.com/2009/06/recycle-and-read.html

  3. Ian @ Tidy Books08 June, 2010


    I remember a chat I had with my son's nursery teacher who was looking at engaging a group dominated by children. She explored various things, and said - even though she never used it - that even the assembly of a gun can teach children things. Counting, assembly, as well as creating dialogue as to what the gun is for. I digress, but thought it relevant to some of your post.

  4. kelly burstow09 June, 2010

    I'm really big on this. I'm big on recapturing chilhood as a place for natural everyday learning (there is, of course, a place for formal learning too). I'm tired of the 'no climbing trees' policy etc. My daughter makes me a cup of tea (she is 9). I've taught her to do it responsibily along with a lot of taboo tasks and activities. Will have to check out Teacher Tom. I think I'm gonna like him ;)

  5. Book Chook09 June, 2010

    Now that gave me pause, Ian! I belong to the anti-gun lobby, so I am not sure i would be comfortable with that. Yet I have heard it said that there are many many families who train their kids to use guns responsibly, and don't have problems.

    Interesting point!

  6. Book Chook09 June, 2010

    I am deeply concerned about how fear of litigation is limiting kids lives and not allowing them to learn when to take acceptable risks, Kelly. Imaginative outdoor play is so important to kids.

    You'll love Teacher Tom!

  7. Aline Pereira/PaperTigers.org11 June, 2010

    I think you're absolutely right, Susan, when you say it's much more important to teach kids how to use tools or do things properly than it is to ban those tools or activities from their lives. Thank you so much for pointing to Tom's blog and for bringing the Tinkering School project to my attention. It's so heartening to know there people and projects like these out there!

  8. Book Chook11 June, 2010

    Isn't it heartening, Aline! I cringe each time I hear that fear of litigation is removing playground equipment or stopping kids climbing trees so it's nice to hear/read the other side too.

  9. Brian C. Smith12 June, 2010

    Excellent post. Tulley's book 50 Dangerous Things is one that my daughter (going on 7 years old) and I are working through albeit at a slow pace. She's doing some smaller 'dangerous things' like driving a nail (and smashing her thumb) and some more daunting things like stand on the roof (#19). Standing on the roof subsequently evolved into a fire safety discussion on how she would get out of the house if there was a fire. She initiated the fire safety question and I think she learned more as a result of her own inquiry rather than my set curriculum of coaxing her onto the roof to teach her a lesson.
    I'm glad you posted this on the Educators PLN site and to make the acquaintance. I look forward to reading more of your work here. As for me, I'm reconstructing my site at http://briancsmith.org where I will write more about play, learning and a variety of other topics.

  10. Book Chook12 June, 2010

    Brian, great to meet you and thanks for commenting. I love the idea of a father-daughter roof expedition. Thumb smashing taught me a lot too!

  11. My husband sent me several links to Gever Tulley and Tinkering school last year. I am fascinated by it. It used to be that this is the way we all grew up. There was more freedom in figuring out how things worked. It seems now that we are all wrapped in bubble wrap and there is no freedom to explore any more. Just tonight my dad was reminiscing about how on his first mission trip to Sudan (1999), he was able to bring flares and knives in his carry on bag without being questioned. That first trip he brought home a six foot spear with him on the plane. These days we can't have any liquids or anything that resembles something sharp. We live in a world where everything must be protected, but I wonder if kids aren't missing a vital part of growing up?

  12. Book Chook14 June, 2010

    I think they ARE missing a vital part of growing up if we don't let them learn to take acceptable risks. I think the increase in litigation has made some legal professionals wealthy, but has not done the rest of us any favours at all. Like you Kelly, I grew up in an age where I had freedom to explore, climb, ride, build, GROW. That's what I want for our kids and grandkids.


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