Letting Children Play with Fire… and Knives Too

Letting Children Play with Fire… and Knives Too

In an amazingly wild patch of more than 2,000 wooded acres smack in the middle of a city suburb, the girls gather. Clad in bermuda-length shorts, baggy tees, knee socks, and bandanas, they’ve been sunscreened and bug-sprayed at home and are ready for six hours in the woods. Each girl lugs along her own Sit-A-Can, a five-gallon plastic bucket with a lid that contains a mess kit, water bottle, rain poncho, and an extra pair of shoes and socks.

My girls, 9 and 11, joined about 60 others earlier this month for Girl Scout day camp.

To be honest, this camp wasn’t even on our radar, but a friend of a friend told us, and the theme clinched it– “Muggle Mania.” (For the uninitiated, “muggle” is Harry Potter-speak for non-magical folk.) HP is just about my girls’ favorite thing in the world right now, having both finished the entire 7-book series recently.

So, we sign up, and I try not to worry too much over the heat and exertion for my 9-year-old, whose autoimmune disease worsens in the sun. I write lots of cautionary and explanatory notes on the registration form, and I drop them off, bright and early Monday morning, hoping for the best.

My girls come home with rave reviews, but it’s not until I volunteer for a full day on Wednesday that I really get it: They let children work with fire, and knives too.

They make “camps” in the woods that act as each of the four groups’ home bases (making the very reasonable assumption that poison ivy and ticks, while unpleasant, are a part of life and we need to deal).

They allow the girls to plan their own lunch menus and give them a full two hours to start the fire, prep the food, eat, and clean up. (And, yes, for the older groups, this involves using real knives to chop veggies.)

They do low-tech things like a basic scavenger hunt that allows the girls plenty of free time to really explore the wooded beauty of the large grove.

Sure, it’s done with plenty of adult supervision, lots of teen aides, and the ever-present team of leaders and moms nearby. But, they don’t hover. They don’t micro-manage. They don’t let their fear of what could happen make them so hyper-vigilant that they drain out every bit of fun.

I find that what this camp does so well is provide three simple things in abundance:

  • Green space
  • Free time
  • Independence

I smile at the old-fashioned simplicity of it all. This is what our children need. This is what they crave.

But, this is also what we schedule out of their lives. This is what we eliminate out of fear. This is what we do for them {instead of letting them learn it themselves, doing it slowly or poorly until we allow them the time to practice and get better}.

Fun things, real things, things that stretch us, things that teach us — they involve a willingness to let go of our clinging fear of the worst-case scenario.

I’m working on re-learning this truth in my life and hoping to teach my kids it too.

Where are you finding old-fashioned simplicity this summer? In what ways do you incorporate green space, free time, and independence into your kids’ lives?

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  1. This is a lovely post. Very good points! I really need to give more thought to this in the future when my first thought is to just do it for them.
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