Often times, the volunteers that come to TimberNook camps are surprised at what we let the children do. These are usually occupational therapy students.
“You let them climb trees?” They ask Angela, astonished. “Yes, absolutely. Do occupational therapists let children climb a rock wall in the outpatient therapy gyms?” “Yes….” they answer, reluctantly. “Well, climbing trees is sort of like climbing the fake rock walls in clinics, only the child has to use their problem-solving skills since the branches aren’t color-coded. Also the texture of the trees versus the plastic of the rock wall feels so much more natural on little hands.”
Children need exposure to textures, smells, and sights from a young age. They learn best through the use of their senses. Our natural environment provides many opportunities for children to explore, while engaging many of their senses at the same time. Why use plastic to replicate the texture of rocks when you can scale a tree outside or climb some boulders for free?
Have you ever built a fire? If so, you know the joy it brings to sit around something you built and maybe even cook your dinner on it. Is it unthinkable that children can learn to build a fire at a young age? You may ask, “what if they get burned?” I want to ask, “what if we deprive them of the joy it brings to sit around something they had worked so hard to build and maybe even cook their dinner from?”
A child is more likely to get burned if they grow up not knowing how to behave around a fire. Learning how to build a fire at TimberNook means learning the importance of safety first.
Not only are children taught how to start a fire from scratch, but they learn how to build their own bow and arrows and how to whittle sticks - two more things some would consider unthinkable.
The same idea applies to other areas of development too. It only makes sense that we would want our children to learn how to safely use tools. Why not let preschoolers use crinkle cutters to allow them to participate further in the cooking process, where they would have otherwise had to simply observe and appear to get in the way? Crinkle cutters are safe knives often used in Waldorf schools that allow children to help cut vegetables and fruits independently. Here is the link where we have ordered our crinkle cutters in the past:
How many times has your child tried to “help” you with cooking? How many times have you said to your child, “that’s dangerous”, “too messy”, or “maybe when you get older? ” Children are eager to learn. Practicing cutting with age-appropriate tools prepares a child to use a real knife and other tools down the road. If you have a school-aged child, why not encourage them to whittle with knives and use a hammer and nails to build? Without exposure to these items how will they ever learn the proper way to use them? Trying to hit a nail with a hammer and whittling a stick help children to develop strong hand and finger strength, eye-hand coordination, safety skills, and responsibility.
Children are natural born risk-takers. I believe allowing them to take healthy risks at an early age helps them to learn their individual limits, while learning important life lessons and responsibility at the same time. What better place to do all this than by your side in the kitchen, or outside among the trees, mud, and grass?