When my old friend Paul first asked me to contribute to DudeCraft, my first thought was "DadCraft." Yeah! Clever of me, I thought: I'm a dad of young boys, it'll be easy, right? the problem with this idea, I realized after staring at the page for an hour, was that I had the "Dad-" part more or less down, but what did I know from "Craft?" Yikes!
Too late; I had already told him I'd do it. (Instant Messaging... Faster than the speed of thought!) So here we are together dear reader, like an awkward first date. To ease the tension, let me tell you a "Dad" story.
For my eighth birthday, my parents got me a Cub Scout pocket knife. I was very anxious to get my hands on it and show off all of its multifunctional awesomeness to my poor knifeless friends. My father, however, insisted on giving me a safety lecture about all the stuff I shouldn't do. He told me: Hand an open knife to someone else handle-first (or you'll slice the ends of their fingers). Don't whittle towards your leg (you'll cut a femoral artery and die), don't stab stuff (blade will close on your fingers and chop them off), and finally, don't open all the blades at once (you'll cut your hand on the already-opened blades, as you open the awl, or the screwdriver, or whatever). Yeah yeah dad, just gimme the knife!
So, needless to say, the first thing I did was run off and show my pals the big blade, the small blade, the can opener, the bottle opener, the awl... ARGGH! A big bloody gash had suddenly appeared in the palm of my hand! My worthless friends scattered, and I ran back to my dad in pain and ignominy. He said nothing (which I'll always be grateful for), bandaged my hand and put the knife up for a while.
So, besides basic knife safety (and the fact that my dad is almost always right), what did I learn from this lesson? Nothing. Until I had kids. Then, I realized that pops may have made a small error: telling a kid how to do something is not as good as showing him; and showing him is not as good as handing over the tool and letting him try it himself. (Aha! Here comes the "Craft" part! Thanks for your patience.)
Here is my wish as a parent: to raise kids who think through consequences for themselves, and have a healthy respect for their own limits and the laws of physics. Kids comfortable with the learning curve - the fact that they won't be great at something right away, but who know that practice brings improvement. Kids who know that screwing around can have consequences: you could get hurt, or you could hurt someone else. If you want to use tools, it's UP TO YOU to be careful. The grownup will guide and advise you, but won't always be able to protect you. Ultimately, everyone's responsible for his own actions: kids, adults, everyone.
In our guard-railed, over-lawyered, "Coffee may be hot" society not protecting kids from every possible danger -on purpose!- starts to feel like a radical notion. "But, he'll put his eye out with that nailgun!" I say, feel the fear and do it anyway (OK, make him wear safety glasses, but you know where I'm going with this). Let kids make stuff, let them break stuff - hell, let them blow stuff up! Definitely be present, but get out of their way as much as possible. My sincere belief is that they will be more self-directed, more responsible, and ultimately safer than if you'd kept them away from all that dangerous soldering and sawing and battling robots.
There are lots of others out there feeling this idea already: I've really enjoyed Free Range Kids; geekdad and, if you haven't seen it already, check out Gever Tulley's amazing TED talk from last year, "Five Dangerous Things You should Let Your Kids Do."
His project, The Tinkering School, is an awesome idea. I'm thinking of sending my kids, but only if I get to go too...