Learning and Memories – Tell Us About Yours

I have a scar on my left index finger where I learned an important lesson about pocket knife safety when I was eleven years old. I had forgotten about it until I’d re-watched Gever’s TED talk on “5 Dangerous Things for Kids”, which includes ideas such as Play with Fire, Own a Pocket Knife, Throw a Spear and Drive a Car.

This past week, I was speaking with friends about how risk averse our culture has become. There is no argument that the broad adoption of bicycle helmets for example has been critical to the safety of kids and adults alike. Honestly, it’s hard to believe that we were ever allowed to ride our bikes down the streets without them. Remember building ramps out of plywood to play Evil Knievel? I do! Did I crash? Did I scrape my elbows and knees? Of course, but I wouldn’t trade those mistakes for anything.

My grandfather always seemed to have a pocket knife with him. A ready knife gave him the power to tighten screws, open boxes and lids, make car repairs and to trim shrubs, among other things. I remember the first time he taught me to whittle a stick, where he talked about how important it was to carve away from my body (a lesson that nonetheless took my own mistake to be fully appreciated). Ironically, it was my grandfather who bought me the very Swiss Army knife responsible for the scar and memory I still have today.

I also remember the cold, snowy winter day when I first drove a car. Actually, it was a truck, which my grandfather and I had loaded that morning with bales of hay to feed the cattle on his farm. His instructions were simple. Drive straight and slow and let him know when we were getting close to the fence at the end of the field. He climbed into the bed of the truck and started cutting slabs of hay to kick out to the herd of cows following us. I was alone in the cab of the truck, barely tall enough to see over the dashboard and so focused on keeping a steady pace that I forgot to tell him that the fence was now a few yards ahead. But he’d already climbed back into the truck and applied the brake. I was 12 years old. He was keeping an eye on me the entire time.

Mysteries are only revealed to those who get to play with them – whether from disassembling machines, poking sticks into an open pit fire or driving a truck. I recognize that enabling our children to do these things makes us parents cringe, but giving them the opportunity to do so (with supervision) is an important teaching moment that strengthens their understanding of the world and allows families to create bonding moments and memories. It also gives kids the confidence to establish their own knowledge of things … on their own terms … and in their own ways.

The scar on my finger is so much more than a scar. It is a milestone.

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