Back before I had children I taught Secondary Science in tiny little schools. My default position on student requests was generally “No,” or at least “Let me think about it.” And that was a pretty sensible position to take when you consider mixing kids who’ve barely been to school, let alone science class, with acids, electricity and flames. And it could be argued that it’s also a sensible position to take with children under the age of, oh, marriage, because common sense really isn’t that common.
Even with the default I taught many memorable lessons, like the time someone knocked over the large beaker of boiling copper sulfate. Or the bang and flash when an innocent student plugged something into the socket another student, luckily not mine, had shoved a paperclip into. Or setting fire to large chunks of steel wool when they were supposed to be investigating fuses (it did break the circuit). Or the time the sodium exploded and molten sodium splatted on the ceiling then rained down in little flaming droplets. Oh wait, that was me. Putting the scalpel on the wrong way and sticking it into a finger was me too. Hmm.
So it seems I have a certain genetic basis for trepidation when it comes to letting my toddlers loose.
But really, what’s the worst that can happen?
Put in the standard disclaimer here, I’m not talking about anything near roads or letting them loose in the medicine cabinet. There are certain things that are just plain dangerous, accidents happen and toddlers really don’t have any common sense. But bumps and bruises and stubbed toes are a part of life.
I know that using playdough in the paddling pool is going to be soggy and fairly revolting. They didn’t, and they haven’t asked to do that one again.
I know that hosing shaving cream off the driveway will make it extremely slippery. They didn’t, now they’re very careful where they walk.
I know that water colours aren’t going to cut it on pretty much anything except paper and YOU ONLY NEED A TINY BIT OF WATER and stickers won’t stick on other things once you’ve put them on your sister’s back. They didn’t, now they ask for the alternatives.
I know that mixing red and green and blue and orange and that much water with the rice is going to turn into a sludgy brown mess. They didn’t, now, actually that one they still do.
Maybe the way we develop common sense isn’t by having success. Maybe common sense is really another name for experience. And the experiences we remember seem to be the ones where things didn’t really go to plan, because we know next time we have to do it differently.
So the next time your child asks to do something you know is going to be a disaster, don’t use the default “No.” Take a deep breath, take some basic precautions (generally here that means outside and stripped off) and say “Sure darling, why don’t we try that?”
Have you had some complete disasters? Proudly tell us how you were really just giving your children the opportunity to experience and learn for themselves.
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