I just read this post on the Tinkering School blog, which is about "dangerism", or the way a culture decides what is and is not dangerous. For example, in our culture suburban parents will put their children in the car and drive them to a park or vacant lot to ride their bicycles, when statistically speaking driving a car is much more dangerous than riding a bicycle around the neighborhood. Reading this post made reminded me of making Stone Soup in school for lunch last week.
For those who have not read the story, Stone Soup is about a community who comes together to make soup after many years of the people being isolated from each other. There are several versions of the story from different cultures. In school last week, the children read a couple of versions of the story over a couple of days, and then they each brought in a contribution to add to the pot of soup that we shared.
Anyway...one of the primary students really wanted to cut up the potatoes that Anne had brought so they could be added to the soup. Personally, that is something that I would never permit my four-year-old to do because I would be afraid she would cut herself; potato cutting requires quite a bit of strength and a sharp knife. However, the student (who will remain nameless in case his or her mother is reading) was insistent that cutting potatoes was entirely appropriate, and I had to take a step back and decide whether my reluctance was about the student's safety or my fear. I decided that it was reasonable for a student of that age to cut potatoes within certain parameters: only one student at a time could have hands on the table while potatoes were being cut, and once the cutter's attention started to wander the potato cutting was over (which it did not, by the way). In the end, all three potatoes were safely cut and added to the soup without incident.
Many things are different at Wellspring from what I would ordinarily do at home. The children eat on regular (not plastic) plates, and pour their own water from a ceramic pitcher. A candle is lit during the midday meal, and children cut potatoes by themselves. And I've realized over the past few months that children are capable of much more than I ordinarily give them credit for. Plates almost never break, and no one ever sets themselves or the school on fire (knocking on wood). I've learned that if we give children the freedom to try things that scare us, we may learn that there really isn't anything to be scared of.
(Photo by flickr user Adventures of Pam & Frank courtesy of a Creative Commons license)