Let them tumble . . . they’ll learn.

May 8th, 2015 by Richard Burman

I believe that life long values like; self-confidence, creativity, curiosity, collaboration and persistence can come out of a childhood where you had opportunities to build and fix things. Reflecting on a recent story coming out of Alberta I want to add ‘judgement’ as one of those values. If you are building a large structure with Legos, for example, there is a point where you have to make a judgement of whether your structure will hold up and not fall over or collapse in the middle. The conditions for collapse can be explained by some rule of physics but it comes down to you, the builder, making a judgement of how to proceed with your design based on observation, trial and error (and of course how many bricks you have left).

A couple of weeks ago an 11-year-old boy in Calgary hopped onto his bike for a 4.8 kilometre ride to his favourite Lego store. He had $200 of his own money and was going to buy some Lego. He wanted to get more bricks for his new monster project — an eight-wheeled off-road vehicle. He had been shopping there by himself for two years. Despite the clear evidence he could safely carry-out his mission, from the store’s point of view he was under-age and needed to be detained until his father showed up.

There are a number of disturbing aspects to this story (see this CBC report for more details). Security guards and a store manager have no right to detain a person who has not committed a crime. It was not up to them to bring the father’s parenting skills into question. If the mall needed to be evacuated the boy would have just bicycled the 4.8 kilometre back home. Responsible parents are the best people to be evaluating the capabilities of their children. But what is most baffling is that the boy had been in the store on his own before and they knew him and there had never been a problem. They went for the rule book and not common sense.

Makers know quite well that you can’t totally depend on the instruction book. If you have experience building and fixing things you know that judgement is extremely important. There are very few projects where you don’t have to scratch your head deciding on how the next step should be carried out. How to balance the two boards so you can put in the second screw or else the whole thing will collapse and your first screw will snap right off. How to remedy a sewing project if your machine starts to skip stitches. If you are a maker you have to observe, experiment, adapt. I believe these are the same qualities needed to run a store.

This store policy was written by lawyers. It was to protect the company not the children. Children don’t need restrictive store policies they need opportunities. Children don’t need fearmongering, they need competences. Playing with Lego is one way they can develop skills. I think these lawyers need to get down on the floor with a big box of Legos and build something elaborate. Who knows, maybe they will learn something.

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