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TED2007

Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

March 3, 2007

At TED U, Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, spells out 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do -- and why a little danger is good for both kids and grownups.

Gever Tulley - Tinkerer
The founder of the Tinkering School, Gever Tulley likes to build things with kids. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Welcome to "Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do."
00:13
I don't have children.
00:18
I borrow my friends' children, so
00:20
(Laughter)
00:22
take all this advice with a grain of salt.
00:26
I'm Gever Tulley.
00:28
I'm a contract computer scientist by trade,
00:31
but I'm the founder of something called the Tinkering School.
00:35
It's a summer program which aims to help kids to learn
00:40
how to build the things that they think of.
00:43
So we build a lot of things.
00:46
And I do put power tools into the hands of second-graders.
00:48
So if you're thinking about sending your kid to Tinkering School,
00:51
they do come back bruised, scraped and bloody.
00:55
So, you know, we live in a world
01:00
that's subjected to ever more stringent child safety regulations.
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There doesn't seem to be any limit on how crazy
01:06
child safety regulations can get.
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We put suffocation warnings on all the -- on every piece of plastic film
01:14
manufactured in the United States or for sale
01:19
with an item in the United States.
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We put warnings on coffee cups to tell us
01:23
that the contents may be hot.
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And we seem to think that any item
01:29
sharper than a golf ball is too sharp
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for children under the age of 10.
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So where does this trend stop?
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When we round every corner and eliminate every sharp object,
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every pokey bit in the world,
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then the first time that kids come in contact with anything sharp
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or not made out of round plastic,
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they'll hurt themselves with it.
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So, as the boundaries of what we determine as the safety zone
01:59
grow ever smaller, we cut off our children from valuable opportunities
02:05
to learn how to interact with the world around them.
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And despite all of our best efforts and intentions,
02:14
kids are always going to figure out
02:18
how to do the most dangerous thing they can,
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in whatever environment they can.
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So despite the provocative title, this presentation is really about safety
02:25
and about some simple things that we can do
02:32
to raise our kids to be creative, confident
02:36
and in control of the environment around them.
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And what I now present to you is an excerpt from a book in progress.
02:45
The book is called "50 Dangerous Things."
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This is five dangerous things.
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Thing number one -- play with fire.
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Learning to control one of the most elemental forces in nature
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is a pivotal moment in any child's personal history.
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Whether we remember it or not,
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it's a -- it's the first time we really get
03:09
control of one of these mysterious things.
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These mysteries are only revealed
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to those who get the opportunity to play with it.
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So, playing with fire.
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This is like one of the great things we ever discovered, fire.
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From playing with it, they learn some basic principles about fire,
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about intake, about combustion, about exhaust.
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These are the three working elements of fire
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that you have to have to have a good controlled fire.
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And you can think of the open-pit fire as a laboratory.
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You don't know what they're going to learn from playing with it.
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You know, let them fool around with it on their own terms and trust me,
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they're going to learn things
03:53
that you can't get out of playing with Dora the Explorer toys.
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Number two -- own a pocketknife.
04:01
Pocketknives are kind of drifting out of our cultural consciousness,
04:04
which I think is a terrible thing.
04:09
(Laughter)
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Your first -- your first pocketknife is like the first universal tool that you're given.
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You know, it's a spatula, it's a pry bar,
04:20
it's a screwdriver and it's a blade.
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And it's a -- it's a powerful and empowering tool.
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And in a lot of cultures they give knives --
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like, as soon as they're toddlers they have knives.
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These are Inuit children cutting whale blubber.
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I first saw this in a Canadian Film Board film when I was 10,
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and it left a lasting impression, to see babies playing with knives.
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And it shows that kids can develop an extended sense of self
04:48
through a tool at a very young age.
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You lay down a couple of very simple rules --
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always cut away from your body, keep the blade sharp, never force it
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-- and these are things kids can understand and practice with.
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And yeah, they're going to cut themselves.
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I have some terrible scars on my legs from where I stabbed myself.
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But you know, they're young. They heal fast.
05:10
(Laughter)
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Number three -- throw a spear.
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It turns out that our brains are actually wired for throwing things
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and, like muscles, if you don't use parts of your brain,
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they tend to atrophy over time.
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But when you exercise them,
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any given muscle adds strength to the whole system
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and that applies to your brain too.
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So practicing throwing things has been shown to
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stimulate the frontal and parietal lobes,
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which have to do with visual acuity, 3D understanding,
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and structural problem solving, so it gives a sense --
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it helps develop their visualization skills and their predictive ability.
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And throwing is a combination of analytical and physical skill,
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so it's very good for that kind of whole-body training.
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These kinds of target-based practice also
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helps kids develop attention and concentration skills.
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So those are great.
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Number four -- deconstruct appliances.
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There is a world of interesting things inside your dishwasher.
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Next time you're about to throw out an appliance, don't throw it out.
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Take it apart with your kid, or send him to my school
06:36
and we'll take it apart with them.
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Even if you don't know what the parts are,
06:41
puzzling out what they might be for
06:43
is a really good practice for the kids
06:46
to get sort of the sense that they can take things apart,
06:49
and no matter how complex they are,
06:55
they can understand parts of them and that means that eventually,
06:57
they can understand all of them.
07:01
It's a sense of knowability, that something is knowable.
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So these black boxes that we live with and take for granted
07:07
are actually complex things made by other people
07:10
and you can understand them.
07:14
Number five -- two-parter.
07:16
Break the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
07:20
(Laughter)
07:22
There are laws beyond safety regulations
07:25
that attempt to limit how we can interact with the things
07:28
that we own -- in this case, digital media.
07:31
It's a very simple exercise -- buy a song on ITunes, write it to a CD,
07:34
then rip the CD to an MP3 and play it on your very same computer.
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You've just broken a law.
07:44
Technically the RIAA can come and persecute you.
07:46
It's an important lesson for kids to understand --
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that some of these laws get broken by accident
07:52
and that laws have to be interpreted.
07:56
And it's something we often talk about with the kids
07:58
when we're fooling around with things and breaking them open
08:01
and taking them apart and using them for other things --
08:05
and also when we go out and drive a car.
08:08
Driving a car is a -- is a really empowering act for a young child,
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so this is the ultimate.
08:18
(Laughter)
08:20
For those of you who aren't comfortable actually breaking the law,
08:22
you can drive a car with your child.
08:26
This is -- this is a great stage for a kid.
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This happens about the same time
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that they get latched onto things like dinosaurs,
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these big things in the outside world
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that they're trying to get a grip on.
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A car is a similar object, and they can get in a car and drive it.
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And that's a really, like -- it gives them a handle on a world
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in a way that they wouldn't -- that they don't often have access to.
08:50
So -- and it's perfectly legal.
08:55
Find a big empty lot, make sure there's nothing in it
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and it's on private property, and let them drive your car.
08:59
It's very safe actually.
09:03
And it's fun for the whole family.
09:05
(Laughter)
09:07
So, let's see.
09:09
I think that's it. That's number five and a half. OK.
09:11

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Gever Tulley - Tinkerer
The founder of the Tinkering School, Gever Tulley likes to build things with kids.

Why you should listen

Gever Tulley writes the best Twitters: Just landed my paraglider in an empty field behind Santa 8arbara. ... Making amazing tshirts with a laser cutter at the maker faire in austin. ... Washing fruit, putting sheets on bunkbeds, and grinding up aluminum foil in a cheap blender ... Updating the school blog, trying to figure out how many cubic feet of air are in a 5 gallon cylinder at 200 PSI. ... Trying to figure out if the tinker kids are going to be able to get molten iron from magnetite sand ...

A software engineer, Gever Tulley is the co-founder of the Tinkering School, a weeklong camp where lucky kids get to play with their very own power tools. He's interested in helping kids learn how to build, solve problems, use new materials and hack old ones for new purposes. He's also a certified paragliding instructor.

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