Tonight when I got home from work my sons asked me if we could head down to our neighborhood park and ride bikes. Knowing it was one of the last free afternoons before school got started for them and me, I naturally said yes and we headed out. Now this particular park is a playground with a baseball field surrounded by a paved path. However, on one side the path take a sharp curve on an access road and it slightly downhill and gravel. As my boys were flying down the path and heading toward this particular spot I saw my older son take the turn too quickly and take a spill. My younger son watched this and slowed down and stopped before hitting this curve.
My older son got up, showed me his scratches and continued on riding. The next time around he slowed down and took the curve in control and navigated the gravel with no troubles. However, my younger son apparently did not learn from the hard earned lesson of his older brother and instead took the turn fast and went down hard as well. He looked at me with tears in his eyes expecting me to somehow fix what had happened. I simply looked him (after I realized he was not seriously injured J ) and asked him what he learned. He told me the “gravel is slippery” and proceeded to take the turn with caution for the remainder of the time we were at the park.
I was intrigued by this experience from a parenting and teaching perspective. After seeing his older brother fall, my younger son still decided to take the turn quickly and fall. For some reason he felt he could pull off what his brother had not. As a parent, my inclination was the yell out and tell him to slow down but then would he have learned that hard-earned lesson? Do we over protect our kids to the point they have no life experience beyond a parent’s warnings to dictate their actions? I often think we walk a fine line and really need to be mindful of safety but also of allowing natural consequence to serve as teaching tools.
In schools we talk a lot about protecting kids from adverse consequences and making sure they don’t fail. I just can’t help but think that if we let kids fall in the gravel more they just might learn more than if we simply tell them the gravel is slippery. Obviously, gravel can be a metaphor for failing a test, being cut from a sports team or being dumped by a girl/boyfriend. As the new school year draws closer I plan on looking for more opportunity to stand near and allow kids to fall down and help them make sense of it rather than making sure they never fall.
Disclaimer – I don’t plan on allowing students to play with weapons grade plutonium, electric fences, or rabid raccoons in an effort to learn from failure/pain but simply those small failures we often try to protect kids from in school.