His number one recommendation? Play with fire.
The mysteries of nature and physics revealed through fire can only be understood by playing with it. As he told Babble,
“When you don’t let kids climb trees or you don’t let them put their arms out the window to feel the wind, you’re actually preventing them from developing interest in the world around them.”
Tulley, a computer scientist and sculptor, runs the Tinkering School, a US summer camp where kids can deconstruct appliances, climb trees and build wild structures with power tools.
He says, “The world is a marvelously complicated place, and simple rules are insufficient to protect kids from danger.”
By letting kids engage with real tools, try and fail, improvise, muck around and get dirty, they learn that all projects have setbacks, and they learn to manage risk for themselves.
Danger, according to Tulley, is socially constructed:
I was recently in Wyoming chatting with a science teacher. On a typical weekend, her children — nine and twelve — leave the house at nine in the morning carrying a backpack with water, a sack lunch, and a flashlight. And I said, “Really? Your son is out there in the wilderness and you’re not worried?” And she said, “Well, at least they’re not going to the mall!”
Tulley’s exploits echo concerns of scholars in the fledgling field of ecopsychology, who argue that a child is born into a social context, but also an ecological context. And that unstructured hours in nature as a child have a strong relationship to engagement with nature in later life.
Tulley’s book – self-published, as the publishers were way too nervous – is Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). Check out his TED presentation below.