Wednesday, September 29, 2010

With 3 boys and having been a Cub Scout Den Leader for 4 years, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on dealing with boys...and probably kids in general* but note the asterisk as the whole "girl thing" no doubt has subtleties of which I've woefully ignorant. But I do have a sister, so I'm hoping that helps a bit. This being said, I'll go out on a limb and claim to know what kids, especially boys, like. I can tick off a few pretty easily - Legos, toy guns (or anything that can be used as a toy gun, like a stick), video games, fire, cartoons, miscellaneous sports, and generally anything they're not supposed to touch (such as my tools).

It's the ones they are not supposed to touch that can be a bit dicey. Take, for instance, knives. We all know they are shiny and sharp - or should be sharp since a dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one (at least to yourself). So why in the world would you give one to an 8-year-old kid? Because, surprisingly, they are probably ready for it. "What!!??" you say (I can already hear the "helicopter parents" clambering to hurry their brood indoors and lawyers rushing to string me up). First and foremost - a pocket knife is a tool, not a weapon. I've carried one for years and it's come in handy more times than I can count. However I've yet to use it to shank someone.

I figure if as respected an institution as the Boy Scouts of America, which has been figuring out the "boy thing" for literally 100 years, is ok with 8-year-olds having pocket knives than you should be too. No joke. When they are in 3rd grade, Cub Scouts as part of their passage to earning the Bear Badge, can also earn the coveted "Whittling Chip" badge. Successful completion of its requirements earns them the right to carry a pocket knife at Scouting functions and events. The safety rules they have to learn and training they receive in handling and caring for a knife work very well as far as I've experienced. It's not as though you're handing out 10" military survival knives to the kids; I'm talking a basic Swiss Army or Boy Scout pocket knife. Nor completely unsupervised either.
I'll admit I probably have gotten almost as much pleasure presenting each of my sons with their first pocket knife as they got in receiving it. The way their eyes lit up you can tell they felt very important getting it. It shows you trust them, think they are growing up and creates a bond between you. Granted, as their parent, you have to carefully think about not only if you are comfortable with them having a pocket knife, but if they are ready for the responsibility. Clearly not all 8-year-olds are created alike. Nor are all parents - no doubt there are those who will claim the child might take the knife to school and be expelled, etc. However, this would be a failure of the parent, not the child. Clearly laying down the rules is critical and you even keeping the knife except in certain supervised situations is always an option.
Admittedly, by the time I was 8, I had a knife and BB gun, both of which I'd pack up with a lunch and take off with my friends to disappear for the day into the woods and fields near our house. We never got into any trouble, nor suffered any terrible injuries. It was a rite of passage as well as a relatively harmless way to learn about risk management.
Here are a few links about selecting an appropriate pocket knife for a child and knife safety for children:
And here's a Q&A forum where someone made a post about possibly getting a pocket knife for an 8-year-old girl. Personally I find the majority of the replies to be pretty paranoid; one of the responders won't even let their 13-year-old son have one.
And, in my opinion, the link below is a quite silly response on Yahoo Q&A about the appropriate age for a child to have a pocket knife. For some reason the "best answer" chosen was at no age since "...there is no need for a child to carry a weapon". I've carried a pocket knife for years and have never used it as a weapon. Make sure you click on the + sign next to "Other answers". At least it's nice to know there are other sensibly-minded people who recognize a pocket knife for what it is - a tool (a useful one at that), and anyone who thinks otherwise has obviously never carried one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Run your kids ragged....and listen to Zeppelin

A complete lack of inspiration for a topic to write about this week has hit me so I'm going to "ramble on" (to quote mighty Zeppelin) in hopes that doing something -- anything -- is better than doing nothing. I suspect I'm not alone in this paucity of thought; at least I like to think it hits everyone from time-to-time. The question is "how do you get past it?"... 
...Long story short - I wrote a bunch of junk (which I deleted) before I came up with the following. Yes I had to scrap a lot but it wasn't wasted time as it got me to having this pretty great family activity idea to share with you. However reading what I wrote to get here would be like reading a tedious (and slightly schizophrenic) stream of consciousness ala Faulkner so I spared you that private hell. Read on...
As the weather starts to cool, here's a great idea for spending time with your kids and getting them outdoors. If they are much older than 11 or 12, this may not interest them. Two words - obstacle course. It's relatively easy to set up an age-appropriate obstacle course in your backyard for your kids to run through. It doesn't require expensive equipment or loads of prep time - in less than an hour you can plan it out (have your kids help!) and another hour or so to set it up and/or put together a few minor pieces of equipment (I usually make whatever I need). I've done this a number of times as a Cub Scout Den Leader and let me tell you - nothing gets 8 year old boys going like an obstacle course...especially if you tell them you want to see how fast they can go!
So here's what you do.
1) Plan for approximately 10 stations for them to run through against the clock. Here's a sample program for kids about 7-10 years old:
    1. Balance beam (about 5" off the ground - simply a 4x4 beam on feet to steady it)
    2. Jump rope 10x
    3. Soccer ball dribble through cones
    4. Frisbee toss at target (like a tree)
    5. "River" jump (set two lengths of rope 4'-5' apart parallel to each other; they have to jump over "the river" between the ropes; for even more excitement tell 'em it's lava)
    6. 10 yard crab walk (hopefully you remember this one)
    7. Up and over (let them scramble over something big like a picnic table; just be certain it's stable and cannot tip over).
    8. Rope swing - if you have a sizeable tree in your yard, tie a rope up in it and have 'em swing over yet another river or lava pit.
    9. Somersaults x 5 (make sure they don't drink too much bug juice beforehand!)
    10. Run backwards for 10 yards
2) Actually take the time to draw a scaled plan/map of your backyard and then lay out the course on paper. This is a great way to show your kids how maps work at a scale they can relate to (their backyard).
3) Following your plan, lay the course out in your backyard so that your kids can run through it safely and without having to navigate too many obstacles NOT part of the course (like guy wires on a tree or a bird bath). I find snaking it back and forth usually works better than trying to make a big circle. Don't forget to include a start and finish line!
4) Have your kids do some slow test runs to work out any kinks. You may also find that you want to rearrange the order of obstacles for better flow or to accommodate the layout of your yard.
5) Grab a stopwatch and have fun! Challenge them to run through it faster each time. Odds are as they familiarize themselves with it, they will indeed get faster and have a true sense of accomplishment. Or maybe one of the challenges is something they have trouble with at first, but figure out how to master.
There you have it. Pretty simple and you've probably got most of the stuff on-hand already. This is a sample course; you may want to come up with completely different challenges. Just don't forget to pick ones appropriate for your kids' ages and abilities as well as your yard. If you know your child has trouble with some particular physical skill, this is a great opportunity in the safe environment of their own backyard to work on it by creating an obstacle to help them develop that skill. However I do encourage you to challenge and stretch them just a bit - that's how kids learn and grow. A challenge that is easily accomplished is no challenge at all...nor any fun.
Enjoy and be safe!