The treehouse was at first an idea preposed by a friend of my son’s. One of several boys who spent many days of summer with me. They started building it on our anniversary. By building I mean they put a bunch of random pieces of wood up on our mulberry tree. I told them upfront that we were having a vow renewal under the tree that evening, and I would be taking down the wood and they would need to rebuild their fort at a later date. They were agreeable to that. Yet, in the days after they didn’t get back to the idea idea and the tree sat empty.
But Mark has not let go of this idea for a tree house. He’s been talking about it regularly and has created plans. He told me very clearly that this was a project only for kids to work on. “No one who is 15 or older is allowed to help!”
Recently Mark (nearly 7) and Vincent (8) began work on the treehouse again with occasional help from Isaac (4).
Mark has his own set of real tools he is allowed to use whenever he wants, he can use my tools with explicit permission and supervision. He’s used his own tools enough I don’t feel the need to closely supervise him. I trust he will be mostly safe. We’ve had a lot of lessons, including a time he cut himself with his own saw and learned why we are careful with the saw.
I respected his request for no adult help as long as he followed a few rules.
- Be smart with your tools, especially the saw.
- Don’t leave tools or nails or screws laying on the ground.
- I’m allowed to veto any design that I believe is unsafe for people or the tree.
Mark agreed to these terms and set to work. Its been very slow going, but he and his cousin are very persistent. A six and an eight year old attempting to put screws and nails though solid wood into other prices of sold wood with only a screwdriver and a small hammer is a slow process. They have sawed a few of the steps for the ladder and halfway attached one.
This is self directed education in action. These kids had no adult say to them “Hey how about you go build a tree house!” This was entirely their idea, their plan and their effort. How sweet will finishing that tree house be when they know they did it with own hands? What might they learn if they don’t finish? What will they learn if they do eventually ask for adult help?
All of these possibilities are fantastic life lessons. Right now I’m glad they are becoming more confident using tools, learning what works and what doesn’t work. I see them experimenting with how to set up the wood to saw it, how to get a screw started though a peice of wood. I see them working together (one day even with a four year old helper.) one person holding the first run of the ladder while another attempts to drive a nail in. They have already spent at least 8 solid hours in the yard over the course of three days working on this, retiring to the swimming pool when the afternoons get unbearably hot. But the next opportunity they are out there again working hard.
Give kids the tools they need and the freedom to use them and they will do great things all on their own.