Monday, October 6, 2008

A Safe Sandbox

On a ski vacation last winter my son got separated from the group coming down a run at Lake Louise. If you have never skied Lake Louise, trust me, it is a massive hill and the thought of my five year old being lost on it still causes my heart to clench. Everything ended well, a call went out to all employees on the hill, and he was quickly found sitting on a bench near a chair lift seemingly just waiting to be reunited with the group.
After the initial shock and panic wore off, I had to admit that I was impressed by how well he managed the situation. I also had to concede that I wasn't terribly surprised. As I catalouged all the skills he needed to get through this little (or big in my mind) crisis -- I realised he had them in abundance.
You see we have a little local ski hill that we frequent. It is on the river hill, has a tow rope, a t-bar, and 6 runs. This is where you will find us for the majority of the winter. This is where my son practiced all the skills he needed to take on the challenge he met at Lake Louise.
  1. Skill and Ability -- Spending up to 4 times a week on a ski hill develops skill pretty fast. As a consequence this little 5 year old, much to my dismay, can take on Black Diamond runs with his dad. Again with the heart clenching...
  2. Confidence -- All that practice and skill building makes for a very confident little boy. He has faith in himself and in his abilities. The most valuable thing is that comes from within him not from his mom telling him he's great. So when he ends up on a big hill all alone he still has that faith and confidence with him.
  3. Problem Solving -- He has gotten himself into a few interesting predicaments at our local hill, but the nice thing is that the consequences of those situations are for the most part pretty benign (ie not worried about avalanches, falling off a mountain, or getting lost). He has learned where the pitfalls may be (ie out of bounds) and can better identify bad situations that, in the mountains, can have serious consequences.
  4. Adult help/mentors -- The advantage of a small ski hill is the community. I can allow my son to roam our little ski hill because I know I am not the only one looking out for him. As he has encountered various situations all sorts of adults, teens and other kids have been there to help him up, guide him, teach him and keep him safe. He knows what authentic interaction with adults looks like.
I am extremely grateful that I have this "safe sandbox" for my son. I know that it contributed to our happy ending at Lake Louise. My kids are lucky that there are many places like that in my community where they can practice all the skills I mentioned above. However, as my daughter, who is eight, begins to venture online I am beginning to wonder where her "safe sandbox" will be? And by safe I don't mean a perfectly filtered, sterile environment but one like our ski hill where mistakes can be made without dire consequences and there is a community who is ready and able to guide, teach and help her learn how to keep herself safe.

I am really looking forward to Parents as Partners webcast tonight (October 6, 2008 9pm EST) with Dean Shareski as they talk about these issues. How can parents, schools, teachers and community work together to make "a safe digital sandbox" for our children? It is an important issue that I hope gets a lot of attention because the only the thing that makes my heart clench tighter than thinking about my son being lost at Lake Louise is to think what might have happened if he didn't have the skills, confidence, and problem solving abilities he learned in his "sandbox".

1 comment:

Penny said...

I like your detailed look at the safe 'snowbox' very much.