Outrage of the Morn’: High School Students Not Allowed to Light Bunsen Burners?

Hi Readers ! This just in. Read it and…give your kids some matches! (Yes, yes, properly supervised, of course.) — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a high school science teacher, parent, and grandparent and a former cubmaster, and I couldn’t agree with you more!  This summer I taught a workshop on building model rockets for 12 to 14 year-olds. None of the 17 kids in the workshop had ever sprayed spray paint, most had never used a utility knife, and two did not know how to tie a knot.

Many of my high school students light their first match in my class when lighting a Bunsen burner ( a task many teachers will no longer allow students to perform). If we deny kids the ability to use tools, we make them crippled.  If we deny kids any risk, they will make their own through risky behavior. — CDB

My question: How did they make it to middle school without ever tying a KNOT? — L.

P.S. This post goes really well with this cartoon!

79 Responses

  1. “My question: How did they make it to middle school without ever tying a KNOT? — L.”

    Three words: Velcro shoe fasteners.

  2. Ok now I may be showing my redneck roots here. But I am only 32 and when I was in High School (in KY) you were still allowed to smoke in school, in the designated smoking area of course. Ok so I am not a fan of smoking in children, but this shows just how many decisions have been taken away from kids. What the heck happened to the generation just before me (well and mine too i guess) that they are SO afraid?

  3. I’m far less surprised about the knot-tying than the other two. How are the kids these days painting their hand-cut stencils?!?!?

  4. how do you not ever tie a knot? my 5 year old ties knots in pretty much everything. or does she mean a deliberate knot that you can actually untie later without having to cut it or soak it?? ’cause then i’m out, lol.

    the spray paint thing may not be that weird — not every family includes a DIY-er who is forever repainting, resanding, recovering their belongings (that’s me). i’m sure there is a fair percentage of households with no half-empty paint cans in the garage because they actually buy new, functioning things that don’t require repurposing and they pay people to paint their walls. personally, i fail to see the fun in that, but whatever.

    i have no explanation for the matches. gas fireplaces and gas grills with on-switches? perhaps kids no longer go through a pyro stage. not necessarily a bad thing, really.

  5. I’m a Montessori teacher, and I show six-year-olds how to strike a match to light a candle. It’s an amazing exercise in responsibility, accountability, and self-control.

    Knots? My three-year-old students can tie knots and bows (one can do it behind her back)…

    What a sad, sad story…

  6. We were at a fire safety event this weekend, and one of the things they did was to show kids a rotary phone and see if they could dial 9-1-1 on it. Of course none of them did. It was humorous to us parents, but not really an issue of course. Unlikely kids will be faced with a rotary phone. In fact my son is always trying to drag his fingers across monitors because that’s how my phone works.

    Knot tying, however, is a skill that I don’t think goes out of style.

    And heck, in many cities kids can’t buy spraypaint under the assumption they’ll use it for tagging. When spraypaint is illegal, only taggers will spraypaint.

  7. I don’t know, but I have a houseguest who at 23 did not know how to crack and fry an egg. I might not be surprised if he did not know how to light a match.

    I suspect these kids are of two kinds: (a) parents are afraid that if they let them touch a match, they will burn down the house the next time they’re out of their parents’ sight; (b) parents believe it’s more important to cram for the Harvard entrance exam than to be able to see in the bathroom when the electricity goes out.

  8. @Chrissy Weeks: Media plays a huge part in these fears. Next is opportunistic individuals. You know, those types that will sue someone else at the drop of a dime. More and more, I see it being less about the kids, and more about the parents themselves. THEIR fears or THEIR greed.

    I remember growing up and hurting myself (fall, trip, bump) while under the care of a babysitter or a teacher. The most my parents ever did was lecture ME, for not watching what I was doing. The babysitter(s) and teacher(s) weren’t negligent, and my parents knew that. I was just being a kid. Kids get hurt all the time, it’s part of growing up. Not once did they ever said “we are going to sue”. Because of this ONE greedy act, everyone is suddenly afraid to take responsibility, for fear of parent retaliation. In the end, it’s the kids who suffer.

  9. Now everybody take out your safety pencil and a circle of paper . . .

  10. As a past education major, I was dismayed when rotary dials went out of fashion. The phone, the TV channel changer, the timer, etc. They seemed so useful for learning the meaning of numbers. A child who has dialed a rotary phone has no doubt whether 9 or 4 is a larger number. Oh, well!

    About knots – in my younger years, it would have struck me as hilarious that kids would have to be “taught” how to tie a knot (other than those fancy boy scout knots). But hey, look at the bright side – kids today can do all kinds of things we couldn’t do as kids – like kill thousands of pretend people in the course of an hour, and email nekkid photos of themselves to scores of “friends.” Woo hoo!

  11. Yet another reason to sign kids up for Boy or Girl Scouts! If you aren’t doing that stuff at home, let someone else show your kids how.

  12. Eric, your comment reminded me about what happened to my 3-year-old on Saturday. We went into a pet store where they have a bunch of hermit crabs in fun shells, and they invite you to touch them, pick them up, etc. The only warning is: don’t hold me over the floor, because if I fall that far I’ll get hurt. We’ve been there several times because it’s next to my grocery store. My daughters finally got the nerve to let a hermit crab touch their hand. Well! The one I chose to lightly touch my daughter’s hand decided to snap and hang onto her palm for dear life. I didn’t know how to get it off safely, so there was a bit of commotion until someone came and coaxed it to let go.

    I am not the type to freak out, blame, etc. Frankly, I blamed myself for not inquiring more before putting the thing on my kid’s hand. But how much you wanna bet that next week, there will be a sign prohibiting all kids from touching the hermit crabs?

  13. tongue in cheek: Knot tying is not on the standardized tests “No Child Left Behind” requires.

    Of course, teaching knot tying is not a middle school teacher’s responsibility.

  14. The knot tying thing is weird. All of my kids, from the time when they were about four, went through a period (of years) of tying strings and yarn and whatever they could find to dresser knobs and anything else. I never entirely understood the purpose of these constructions, and frequently nagged them about it when they become obstructive, but they were evidently important to the kids. And in most cases, they started doing this before they’d learned to tie their shoes, so I don’t think I even taught them how to tie knots — they just DID it.

    When I was in high school in the 80’s, we had to light the Bunsen burners with these spark striker things. I could never manage it, and my lab partners would always have to do it for me. I have small hands and I’m not very coordinated, I guess. Nowadays, if you don’t want the mess and (relatively slight) risk of matches, you can use those ubiquitous butane lighters. But do the teachers really go all around the room lighting the burners for every student? What a waste of time.

    SKL, I think your two reasons nail it. I actually had a conversation with a woman whose 13 year old daughter did NO household chores, because “her job is to get straight A’s.” Considering she was an only child and her dad worked out of town for weeks at a time, I hardly think helping with doing the dishes or cleaning up after the messes of an adult and a teenager would really have put THAT much of a crimp in her academic life, you know?

  15. @pentamom, learning how to use strikers is a great skill! It came in really handy when I started soldering and welding, because that’s how you light a gas torch. (Oh noes, I started welding when I was 17!)

  16. I’m surprised that matches are used to light bunsen burners. I remember a sparker device.

    Lighting a flowing stream of gas with a match is a hit and miss operation, where sometime you will blow out the match before you light the gas. That leaves the stream of gas flowing, but no fire, so more of a chance to cause a minor explosion.

  17. Ummm…..my seven year old cooks her own grilled cheese start to finish on our gas-fired stove. Lighting a match is a life skill. Tying a knot is a life skill (we force the issue in Kindergarten with lace shoes). Painting? Maybe not, but a kid left to tinker who learns how to build his own, repair broken things, and spray-paint is going to save a lot or money over the course of a lifetime over one that throws away and buys new….not to mention the free time he/she will be able to fill with said tinkering and the sense of accomplishment when you figure it out. Sad, sad, sad.

  18. My boys took a Chemistry class last year and the teacher forgot the matches for a projects. Several kids raised their hands to pull out a lighter from the emergency kit in the car. Several of the kids had done the experiment before and could light the material faster than the teacher. She was a Middle School Teacher for a large school district. She thought it was refreshing to finally have a venue for teaching the kids that included hands on learning. She would have never been allowed to let the kids do the actual project in the public school. (this was a private non affiliated to anything class)

    My son is often harassed for carrying a knife on his belt. He gets “told” on all the time. Yesterday was an all time high for people pointing and “telling”. He has a hunter’s knife in a sheath on his belt, buttoned securely. I carried a leather-man tool my entire time in the Coast Guard. We often need the knife when hiking or boating, which we do alot.🙂 – oh and my son is often mistaken for a 15-16 yr old, although he is only 12.

  19. My old highschool is a Catholic highschool, and even they allow the use (unless policy changed during last year) of strikers to light burners and even carcinogens for labs

  20. I have to say, it isn’t only the parents. At my first PTA meeting, the principal came in and asked the PTA to donate keyboards for the 4th or 5th grade students who couldn’t write legibly. I almost spit out my coffee – isn’t legible handwriting a life skill that the schools are responsible for? How are these kids going to fill out a job application, write a thank-you note, put their name on a list at Urgent Care, enter a raffle, or any number of tasks that require legible handwriting? I guess so long as they can fill in an oval, she considers them able to write….

  21. These poor kids are gonna end up in a lot of pain the first time the burner on their first apartment’s stove doesn’t light… Oh wait, who am I kidding? They probably won’t ever learn to cook.

    I still remember when the janitor at my preschool showed me how to tie my shoes (these days he’d probably be scared to interact with a kid without multiple adult witnesses). I was delighted! I spent most of the day tying and untying my shoes.

    I’ve never used spray paint but I imagine it’s the same idea as bug spray. Or vegetable spray. Or hair spray.

  22. Can I get one of those non-knot-tying kids? Because my 4 year old ties knots in everything and then wants me to get them undone. Yesterday it was a baby bonnet from her dolls that was then stuck on her head until I could get the very tight knot undone. And she has been tying her shoes for a year at this point. By 12-14 I fully anticipate my child knowing how to use a knife and light a match. Spray paint? Since I can probably count on one hand the number of times that I’ve used spray paint in my life, she might get a pass on that one but it’s not exactly technical equipment.

    Another reason that kids are not allowed to buy spray paint is huffing. They breathe the fumes to get high.

  23. @Elfir… spray paint works the same way, but you wouldn’t want to get them confused!

  24. @rhodykat was it kids that can’t write neatly or kids with physical difficulties and/or Learing disabilities that can’t write neatly. I suspect it was the 2nd. We educators have privacy driven into our heads so hard, we are scared to even mention LD’s or physical problems for fear we will accidently reveal a child’s secret.

    Students at my school, surprise new to the campus teachers for saying things like “Miss, I need a yellow overlay to read this, because I’m dyslexic.” in front of the whole class. We treat accommodations as something everyone has from glasses and hearing aids to large print books, slant desks, color overlays. Students are taught to advocate for themselves, know what helps them learn and demand it. Sure it leads to “normal” kids experimenting with some equipment. One of the kind, expensive equipment they don’t get to do this. Want to see how using an overlay effects your reading go for it.

    I was punished regularly in school for refusing to write neatly

    Problems with that
    a)I was ambidextrous till 3rd grade when the teacher (I use that term in protest) decided I was left-handed and would physically twist my right arm behind me if I tried to use it. I am dysgraphic and the docs say I would not be if I had been allowed to use my right hand.

    b) I have a skin condition that causes the skin on the tips of my fingers, finger joins, and feet to split or fissure. I also got yelled at for bleeding on papers.

    I was diagnosed with dysgraphia in University. The diagnoses was freeing. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t being lazy. I started using a computer more and wow the change. I also have dyslexic tendencies. Computers and E-readers are great because they are flexible. I can adjust the font size, format, and contrast to fit the lighting and my level of energy.

  25. Hillary said:

    “Yet another reason to sign kids up for Boy or Girl Scouts! …”

    Ha! Ha! Not necessarily. Remember the scouts who were given potato peelers instead of knives to whittle sticks?

    We had a 12-year-old boy scout at our house who had never struck a match!

    A 10-year-old friend of my sister’s son had never buttered his own bread!

    On the other hand, one of our sons beginning when he was 7 or 8 spent many happy hours making his own little fireplace in the backyard, lighting fires and burning things thoughout his childhood. (and we live in a city.) Later, this same son – who normally avoided reading books at all costs – checked out 30 books on pyrotechnics from the library and taught himself how to make advanced fireworks. Now in his 20’s, he has worked at a company that pyrolizes trash and makes it into useable products.

    Our other son designed his own magneto-plasmadynamic thruster as a student in high school and won national science awards.

    I can’t help thinking that our nation of inexperienced kids, crippled by our “overprotective” SOCIETY, has created an open field for Free Range Kids to excell and prosper. It would be interesting to hear stories from other Free Range Parents about how their children have excelled because of Free Ranging.

  26. She didn’t say LD, but she asked for four keyboards for a class of 20….a 25% LD rate seems a bit high,,,

    I’m all for helping kids who can’t write, but I’m finding that even in first grade my daughter’s teacher will help type things up for them instead of sending them home handwritten just to “neaten them up” – the same teacher did have a shoelace tying exam, though, and sent a note saying that the kids had to know how to tie their shoes by a certain date…the kids that did it got no homework that day.

  27. I’m proud to say that this 4th of July at the age of 6 I decided to let my son use matches to light his own fireworks (it was just the little black snake things, nothing that was going to explode in his face). He was very proud of himself and after watching all the snakes, he made a little pile of all the matches he had used and set it on fire too🙂 The other day I was talking to another mother and she was shocked to hear that my son can make spaghetti by himself, including browning the ground beef. I do come in the kitchen when it’s time to drain it, he’s rather small for his age and I don’t think he can manage the pan and the lid and letting the fat out while keeping the meat inside. We will be skipping the spray paint, my only experience with the stuff was using it in my basement which ended up being a DIASTER!!! Yellow hung in the air for days and eventually coated everything, I have no desire to ever touch spray paint again🙂

  28. When I was in kindergarten my teacher taught the entire class how to tie thier shoes (I still have the “reward” – a little paper shoe, laced by my own 5yo hands).

    When my dd got to that age I just assumed that would still be the case as it is such a basic skill… my mistake!😦 The school wouldn’t even LET her have tie-up shoes until Grade 4! And to this day (16yo) she chooses not to wear tie ups!

    My kindergarten teacher taught us lots of useful things, like: how to put away all our coats and bags, and how to sit down and put up our hand if we wanted attention.

    But now these types of skills are considered “old fashioned” and out of favour, while they try to teach 5 year olds how to type… sorry, I mean “keyboard” – with fingers to short to reach all the keys!

  29. @rhodykat actually 4 for a class of 20 sounds about right. It lets every group of 5 have one. That way they all get to learn to use the tool, but those that need it most get to use it on tests.

    I have 21 kids most years so I have tables of 5/6 (4 groups just works better for me in my room than 5.)

  30. @SKL: lol, I won’t be taking you up on that bet. Because I know they WILL have it posted. I’m just dismayed how a few ruin it for many.

    How’s your daughter by the way, hopefully she didn’t get any phobia from the experience.

  31. @pentamom You said “I actually had a conversation with a woman whose 13 year old daughter did NO household chores, because “her job is to get straight A’s.””

    I find that sad. Apparently that mom finds grades more important than life skills like cooking and cleaning. I wonder what kind of response the poor girl gets if she gets anything less than A’s.

    It’s not the end of the world, but I bet mom would disagree…

  32. Eric, I think my daughter is done with hermit crabs for the time being, LOL. She never was much of a critter person and she abhors bugs. But hey, it was a life experience. She is physically OK, just not real eager to pet anything with pinchers.

  33. Pentamom & Ben, the sad thing is, chores don’t make kids stupid, they make them smarter. I always got my highest grades when I was doing the most work on the side. Balance is unfortunately underrated in our culture.

    For full disclosure, I didn’t always get straight As (though I was never far from it). But, I was in college at 16, so take that for what it’s worth. Which reminds me, I read yesterday where a mother said she didn’t let her kid stay in the car alone until he was 16 (just too many bad things that could happen!). Can you imagine?

  34. #Child’s job is to get straight As

    Wait until Parent finds out that it takes more than straight As to get into college…

  35. I’m 40, a scientist, and have never sprayed spray paint. I’ve never had the need or the interest. I don’t feel my life has been particularly deficient as a result. I figure both my kids and myself are intelligent enough to know spray paint exists and to read the directions on the label should the need to spray paint something arises. I’m not worried about it. I have a lot of other skills many people lack that I actually use on a regular basis.

    Although I find it odd that people wouldn’t have taught their kids to use matches safely, some of the others don’t surprise me because not everyone has interest in or need for the same tools. I actually have to go out of my way to give my kids practice with matches because aside from birthdays we don’t really use them. I can’t think of one thing around our house that requires matches. And I’m sure he’s exaggerating about the knot. He probably meant a specific kind of knot, like square vs. slip knot. A useful skill when the need arises, but again one I use maybe once a year (to tie a Christmas tree to the top of the car).

    Maybe this teacher’s experience points more to how our society has changed in terms of technology and daily living skills versus overly protective parenting styles?

  36. Oh, I forgot to note, I’ve never used matches to light a bunsen burner… every lab I’ve been in, whether as as a student or an instructor, has had flint strikers.

  37. Oh wow . . . I’m teaching my PRESCHOOL students to tie knots and we’ve just ordered a bunsen burner and flint striker to use in class — and I fully intend to let the kids light it! Every year we melt lead in spoons over a candle and I’m getting the bunsen burner to make it a little safer!

    (I don’t let them use the spray paint because I’ve seen too many of them spray themselves in the face when spraying liquid watercolor — but at least they know how to spray stuff.)

  38. I hope this story is a joke. How do you get to that age without spray painting anything? Even if you aren’t a little trouble maker, there are so many other things- model rockets, bikes- oh yeah, they probably aren’t touching those things either. And not using matches? Is it because they use lighterws or are they just that coddled? SCARY.

    I’ve seen other people post this sentiment, but I will repeat it anyway: Our FRK’s will be the ones starting up and running all the businesses and such, since they will be the only ones capable of doing it! (If they aren’t jailed for being different, or had their spirit broken by some insane school by the time they are adults) I cannot imagine these sheltered kids at work- I sure hope their parents have saved lots of money because they will be supporting them forever!

  39. Rich- Agreed!
    ONE of a childs jobs is to do well in school, but this is not enough to succeed, not even enough to get into many colleges these days. Responsibility, work , and learning about the real world is good for kids.

    In today’s economy ,creativity, problem solving, flexibility, cunning, persistence and risk taking are FAR more important than how well you did in school. The only thing that rivals these attributes is who you know! No one cares about your grades unless you are in academia, and even then, an interesting life story will often trump grades. Have good grades AND a good story? Your golden!!! And you don’t get an interesting life by being sheltered until you are 18-21, it takes a lifetime to develop this type of personality.

    Sadly, the days of going to school and making A’s, then graduating college, getting a job, being loyal and hard working for 30 years and retiring on a pension are OVER. And they are not coming back. Learn to deal with change and uncertainty or perish! We need to make sure we address this reality with our kids, and helicopter parents are doing exactly the opposite, as are many of our schools.

  40. Most places in the States it is illegal to sell spray paint to anyone under eighteen. I am 33 and have been carded. It is because of the “huffing craze”. I believe lighters are in the same boat.

  41. The knot tying thing doesn’t surprise me, because most shoes these days have velcro or elastic instead of laces. My kid is 8 and has never had lace-up shoes. He’s also never lit a match…it just honestly never occured to me to teach him how, lol. I use one of those long lighters when I need to light the stove or the gas heater🙂 I’ll rectify that tonight for sure. It is entirely possible that I’ve never used a can of spray paint, so that doesn’t surprise me either. My family is super crafty, but *shrug,* we just never used spray paint.

  42. Yeah, I could probably learn to use a striker NOW. I’ve gained both manual strength and skill in the last 30 years.😉 But OTOH, I can’t foresee firing up a welding torch, personally…. 😉

    Ben, FWIW, my sense is that the girl was quite capable of getting straight A’s so this was kind of the deal they had, not a real “pressure” thing. But still, you’re right — life skills matter, too.

    “The school wouldn’t even LET her have tie-up shoes until Grade 4!”

    That’s absurd. I can see a school insisting that kids either be able to tie their shoes OR not have lace-ups (though I think that would be somewhat ridiculous as well) but that’s just amazingly absurd.

  43. “Wait until Parent finds out that it takes more than straight As to get into college…”

    Well, I was talking to this mom at the ballet school, and she also did regular swimming. So it’s not like she was locked in a room studying and doing nothing else, it’s just that she got exempted from any family responsibilities for the sake of her own personal advancement, I guess. She was the youngest of three girls (I said she was an only, but I got confused — she was the last left at home) and the other two were college grads and out on their own, so it’s not like this mom didn’t have a clue about what would enable her daughter to be academically successful. She just apparently chose not to teach her daughter that taking care of oneself and contributing to family needs is an important responsibility as well.

  44. And, BTW, anyone who has straight A’s can get into college. Maybe not the college of their choice, but some reasonably decent college.

  45. Perhaps she could get into college, but if she has no ability to take care of herself once she moves out of her parents home is there a point?

    I have known plenty of people with degrees who are pretty much hopeless cases. Cannot pay bills, clean house, cook… They expect someone else to do it for them even if they do not make enough to pay someone… Very selfish.

  46. If I couldn’t do it myself (I can tie my shoes and about 3 other knots) I would rather put my son (when old enough) on a sailboat for a summer than sign him up for boy scouts. Haven’t the LDS pretty much taken over the US organisation? I know a Swiss friend of mine was aghast to find out the local chapter required getting the Faith badge before all others, so it’s elsewhere, too (though I’m not sure that was LDS, could have been some other branch of Christianity).

    Kids should know at a very young age how to handle and respect: bikes, knives, scissors, fire, (and maybe a little later) cars. I used to teach 6-year olds how to safely build two kinds of campfire. In 5 years, I never met one who couldn’t handle it.

  47. I don’t understand how a school can dictate the type of shoes, other than requiring athletic shoes for days your child has PE. I will not tie shoes for kids. I do tell them to take care of their laces so they aren’t dragging on the floor being a tripping hazard. I don’t care if they tie them or tuck them in as long as the shoe stays on and the laces are off the floor.

  48. kherbert, I agree with you. That got me mad when I read that, and then I thought, that will probably be the least of my worries when my kids are in elementary school, LOL. I will just send them in shoes that tie and they can provide other shoes if they don’t like it. By the way, my kid who was 3 in January has mastered tying a bow. My other 3yo is well on her way. And both of them have tied plenty of knots already!

  49. Oh, I agree, Nok, I was just disputing someone’s comment that it takes more than straight A’s to get into college. It takes more than straight A’s to have a functional life, but really, straight A’s will get you into most colleges. It’s kind of a myth that good grades aren’t enough to get into college — they’re just not enough to get you into exactly the college you want to go to. It’s funny how much value we put on going to exactly the college you want to go to — as if most graduates of people’s second or third choices somehow haven’t succeeded in life because they graduated from the “wrong” school, when in reality, 99% of college graduates come from “second best” (or worse) schools, and the majority of them have decent lives thereafter.

  50. […] over at Free-Range Kids received a letter from an outraged mother who reports that some schools no longer allow their students to light bunsen burners for fear they burn themselves or their school…. Where is this craziness going to end? Before you know it, we’ll have to wear helmets just […]

  51. Re: LDS and the Faith badge.

    If you look at a website listing the troops in region, you may find a lot of LDS troops. Scouts is a major portion of their children’s ministry. However, they usually do not mix with the non-LDS troops. They generally choose to hold their own events totally separate from the majority of Scouts.

    The Faith badge is required for certain accomplishment levels. Although individual troops may require it be first, BSA does not. The badge is completed with an individual’s church, and there are workbooks for every imaginable faith, not just the Christian ones.

  52. I’m 25 I’d just like to point out that in my High School, we had a class on auto mechanics and a class on metal working (both require welding and soldering), but were not allowed to do any experiments in science class because we might hurt ourselves.

    I’d also like to point out that fine motor issues are far more common that what most people consider to be LDs they just get far less press and are far less likely to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist.

  53. That’s absurd. I can see a school insisting that kids either be able to tie their shoes OR not have lace-ups (though I think that would be somewhat ridiculous as well) but that’s just amazingly absurd.

    Well, if the choice is between “make ’em use velcro” and “have the teacher tie their shoes”, I’d go with the first every time.

  54. See, from the time I started KG at 4, anyone needing teacher assistance for shoe tying received stern disapproval. Everyone at least made a decent effort and most of us could tie a decent bow without help – on day 1 of KG. In those days, of course, there was no velcro. But the idea of a child over the age of 5, in a regular classroom, needing help tying shoes? I don’t remember it ever happening. The idea that you couldn’t send your kids in shoes that required tying? Huh?? Please tell me kids have not really gotten that stupid in such a short time.

  55. I’m sadly not surprised at the amount of things these kids could not do. The knot tying I’m a bit surprised at but not shocked. I have a 16 year old, she a has a lot of friends, and they all spend time at our house (some lots of time). I see all the time the things they are simply unable to do because it hasn’t been allowed or encouraged in them. One of them had no idea how to use a hammer. Apparently he’d never even put a nail in a wall for a picture or anything.

    We’re in a city where the police have more than once proposed laws against minors owning, buying or possessing matches, lighters, spray paint or sharpies. If you willingly and knowingly allow your kids to have these things then in the eyes of many of the police you are being a poor parent. My kids have access to all of these and they use them, my oldest buys her own all the time.

    Experimentation has pretty much left the schools in favor of toddler proof safety measures. When I was in high school my science teacher lived for experiments. I once held a hydrogen (yes) filled balloon on a stick while he exploded it with fire. Another time he let students implode a barrel. I doubt these things are even considered in your average science class anymore.

  56. See, from the time I started KG at 4, anyone needing teacher assistance for shoe tying received stern disapproval. Everyone at least made a decent effort and most of us could tie a decent bow without help – on day 1 of KG. In those days, of course, there was no velcro. But the idea of a child over the age of 5, in a regular classroom, needing help tying shoes? I don’t remember it ever happening.

    Hi! You’re currently talking to somebody for whom “stern disapproval” did… nothing. Lessons did… nothing. (Mostly, I realized when I finally *did* learn to tie my shoes, in my double digits, because the way they were explaining it simply DID NOT MAKE SENSE.) Help did… nothing.

    Of course, I wasn’t in a regular classroom. I was in a gifted classroom, and… couldn’t tie my shoes. Outright shaming didn’t help either. Admittedly, I had fine motor control issues… but I’m not unique in that.

  57. Oh I WISH I didn’t have to light Bunsen burners!
    I have a phobia of them =)
    (Well, all things involving gas and flame – all very reasonable when one considers a childhood accident).
    Anyhow, back to the point.
    When I was in year 7, not that long ago, my teacher MADE me light one!

    To date I have lit a Bunsen burner three times.
    1. The year 7 incident
    2. Yr10 exam
    3. Yr12 exam

  58. I stand corrected on the keyboards – my mother spent 30 years as an elementary school teacher, and when I told her she was alarmed as well which to me confirmed that it was not normal

  59. Uly, I’m not saying we should shame kids who can’t tie their shoes. I’m just saying we should encourage kids to do it because most can learn. Banning shoe tying from primary school is ridiculous. A child like you could slip under the radar today by wearing velcro, slip-ons, etc. So that’s great. But a few kids’ troubles is no reason to hold every child back.

    My older 3yo is having a little trouble because of her vision issues. Her eyes don’t focus together. So she can tie a slip knot, but sometimes she has to make several tries, and she gets frustrated. She knows the steps to tie, because she can tell me and help me through it, but she has a rough time doing it herself. BUT, that doesn’t mean I’m going to switch to velcro for the next five years. It means we’re going to work on it until we figure out a way that works for her. Because for her, it’s all the more important that she get used to applying her brains and effort to figure out hard stuff.

    Just out of curiosity – did your mom try to teach you how to tie, or leave it to the schools? I hear many people comment that they think it is the job of the schools – and personally, I don’t agree with that. I feel that “life skills” are 100% my responsibility. School is for academics, in my opinion. So to the extent that kids have physical challenges, etc., at least the parents can give one-on-one attention and use what they know of their child’s strengths to shore up weaknesses.

  60. Uly, my point is that isn’t the choice. You could insist that the kids who can’t tie their shoes, not have laces. But to ban laces for everyone is silly.

  61. Re: Boy Scouts and religion. It’s really up to the troop how much emphasis they put on God/higher power. Some make it a central part and others ignore the religious aspect of it completely. I know there have been instances where nonreligious kids have had a tough time in certain troops because of overzealous troop leaders. I’m not sure what the official stance of the BSA is currently.

  62. “Maybe this teacher’s experience points more to how our society has changed in terms of technology and daily living skills versus overly protective parenting styles?”

    I agree with this. Technology changes, and so do the necessary life skills. For instance, while we should teach children to PRINT legibly (for the occasional form they don’t fill out online or via Adobe), there is really far more need for keyboarding skills than cursive writing skills in today’s society. Why not keep teaching and practicing printing in K-2, but focus more on keyboarding (for speed and accuracy) in 3rd-6th than on cursive handwriting? Kids need to be able to read cursive, but it would be a rare occasion indeed when they would NEED to write it. Forms say PRINT. Everything else today is typed.

    As for knot tying – most little kids tie random knots, and most kids can still tie their own shoes by 1st grade. (My 6 year old just learned this summer, a little later than her friends. She had to learn by dinkering around on her own because trying to explain it to her confused the heck out of her. And we had to ditch the velcro shoes and buy her tie shoes, but we relied on velcro for so long because, hey, the technology is frankly an improvement over ties IMO. Even if you know how to tie your shoes, you’ll probably have to stop and retie them a couple of times a day if you’re running around a lot.) But if you’re not just talking tying a knot for shoe tying (or for the heck of it in everything a kid can find from jump ropes to long sleeves), if you’re talking FORMAL knots, sailor’s knots type stuff, well, I admit to having no such knot tying skills even in adulthood, and despite a “free range” childhood. And guess what – I’ve never actually needed to tie such a knot either.

    Spray paint? I’m over thirty and I’m not sure I’ve EVER spray painted anything. I’m quite sure I could if I needed to, however. I’ve just never had the need.

    Matches? We have matches on hand, but we mostly use lighters around this house to light our candles and our grill – it’s simpler technology than a match – easier to use and there’s no little stick to throw away in the end. So my kids have never lit a match. If they want to, they’re welcome to. They just haven’t NEEDED to. I suppose they’ll WANT to soon enough, and then they will.

    My point is, these are skills kids will learn when they actually need to use them. But they simply aren’t ESSENTIAL skills in the modern age; a lack of these skills is probably not a result of overprotection, but a result of changing necessity and technology.

    “I have a skin condition that causes the skin on the tips of my fingers, finger joins, and feet to split or fissure. I also got yelled at for bleeding on papers.”

    My daughter has that problem – well, it’s just eczema – but it causes finger splitting and occasional bleeding. She certainly never gets yelled at for bleeding on papers, but she does get a LOT of emphasis put on making sure she uses her “proper grip,” which I don’t really get. She doesn’t write any BETTER with her “proper” grip. She doesn’t write any FASTER. So why not just let her use the “improper” grip that is more comfortable to her (because then the pen/pencil rests on the eczema spots less?) It seems to me sometimes educators obsess about little things that don’t really matter that much.

    I keep getting told – do you notice she’s pigeon toed? You should get that checked out! So I finally asked the ped., who said, “Eh, no problem. It’s an advantage in track.” And the girl runs fast, lands on her feet, and is quite athletic, but so many people are still sure I should be gravely worried that her feet turn in. I’ll worry when it actually prevents her from doing something.

  63. Hi Lenore,

    I do agree with this teacher. I grew up in Glenview, a suburb of Chicago. I remember in Junior High and High School, I enjoyed science and I especially enjoyed Biology and Earth Science. I remember in college I even took Astronomy, Biology, and one on Evolution. I absolutely loved them. I remember during during a few science classes I used the Bunsen Burner for a few class assignments and I remember that during Junior High, I personally dissected a worm, and In high school, I dissected a sheep’s kidney and a fetal pig. I absolutely enjoyed working on those projects and for me to not experience doing those stuff really would have held me back in the learning of science and to think that many kids may not do those is absolutely ridicules in my opinion. Kids in Junior High and High School are not necessarily the fragile, sheltered, ding dongs (so to speak) that people keep treating them like these days. Sure they may have a lot to learn but they should learn and experience things and be smart about it.

  64. I just have to share this story, though it’s not an unreasonable restriction like most of these. By the time I got to high school, my school was no longer letting kids gather the materials for experiments from the cabinets themselves – they had to be distributed by the teacher.

    Evidently, several years before I got there, someone made LSD in class instead of doing the assigned experiment.

    I have to admit, that particular change of rule seems pretty reasonable.

  65. I agree that it’s not exactly shocking that some 12 to 14 year olds have never actually spray painted, but what’s interesting is that the teacher may never have noted it (or may never even have realized it) if their reaction wasn’t merely “I’ve never done this” but “I can’t figure out how to do this.”

    I’ve rarely spray-painted at all in my life, and almost certainly hadn’t at that age. But I’m also pretty sure that if someone spent thirty seconds demonstrating it to the class, the fact that I hadn’t previously done it would have been a non-issue. I think we do have a problem with kids being so restricted in what is “safe” or “appropriate” for them to do, that learning new tasks outside their experience is unnecessarily daunting to them. So instead of the kids’ previous spray-painting experience being more or less transparent to the teacher, it was an issue because they reacted in a bewildered fashion when asked to. And I do also think that 0 for 17 is pretty surprising. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if half the kids haven’t — as Dahlia says, some families aren’t into handcrafting, buy their stuff new, or what have you. But none? That’s odd.

  66. The more I think about the spray paint, the more I think the parenting scorers have it wrong.

    My parents were free-range. They had 6 kids and yes, we were very familiar with spray paint and matches. I can remember more than a few free-range projects we conducted without parental supervision, LOL, so one might conclude that parenting in that style was easy. However, then I think back to the evidence our little projects left. Spray paint is permanent(!), as I recall my parents reminding us. Oh, and what ever happened to the nice metal dog dish we used to have? What do you mean it flew over to the next block??

    And today’s parents pat themselves on the back for all that they go through!

  67. SKL and Pentamom, I agree, banning laces for everybody is teh st00pid. But I don’t think “stern disapproval” is the way to go, which is what I said.

    And yes, SKL – EVERYBODY tried to teach me to tie my shoes. It didn’t take, and it didn’t take, and it didn’t take. Eventually they came up with the reason “Well, it’s hard for righthanded people to teach lefties things like this”, which I fully believed until I was in my teens. (Also, I believed I had to have speech therapy because I wore braces, and that my handwriting was terrible because of the left-handed thing again. All this is true as far as it goes, I guess, but….)

  68. Oh well, Uly, don’t feel bad. I flunked the drivers’ test twice! Who does that?? Nobody’s good at everything . . . .

  69. I don’t even know *how* to drive. This is mostly because I live in NYC where it doesn’t come up (even on Staten Island, my response to “you have to drive there” is “well, I’ll just go off the island then”), but also because I simply don’t trust my spatial awareness skills enough to put myself behind the wheel of several tons worth of killing machine. No, THANK you. Poor spatial awareness and trouble multi-tasking equals one Connie who’d rather not risk it.

    So you’re ahead of me there.

    The thing with the disapproval, though, is that I think it made things harder for me. After a certain point (first grade) it was so embarrassing that I wouldn’t let people show me (again) how to do it. I just took the laces out of my shoes and lived like that. Which totally worked as a solution, and it’s not like people chiding me for being unable to tie my shoes was the real cause of the problem (seriously), but I might’ve been willing to try again a little sooner if I hadn’t been worried about failing AGAIN with that. Luckily, most kids aren’t me in this respect, but they probably DO all have one area that they’re just a little slower in. And while I’m not all “Let’s coddle their delicate feelings!”, I tend to think that… well, that it’s not always helpful to go the stricter route.

  70. Well, a stern look to a little kid is really not that abusive. If it is, most of us are abusing our preschoolers regularly. I think the point was to let the kids know “this is your job, not Mrs. C’s, and she’ll help you today, but you need to do it on your own as soon as you can.” Some kids like the extra attention of being helped to do something they can do, and that’s not fair to the teacher.

    How to deal with a kid who has known difficulties is always an interesting question. My approach with both of my kids (whose abilities are very different) is usually “try again.” Or, “be patient with yourself, and keep trying.” If they won’t try, yes, they get the “stern look.” If they make a failed effort, I encourage them to try at least a couple times and then I help them through it, but I will rarely do it “for them.” They also feel a bit of competition if Sister can do it, though I don’t push that. Can I be sure they will never feel inadequate in life? Hell no.

    Fact is, my kid has a tendency to be insecure. This was extremely evident before she was 18 months old, and it wasn’t because of any teaching method. Being relatively insecure is a personality trait just like any other. She’s a lot more confident nowadays, but if she grows up and remembers moments when she felt “less than,” I will not be inclined to feel personally responsible, or to blame her teachers. It’s something she’ll need to cope with, just like her mother did.

  71. And I don’t think it *is* abusive either – and for the record, I’m not sure my teachers really knew about my problems in that area. I mean, on the one hand I’m sure they MUST have known, but on the other hand, their solution to, say, my poor handwriting was to give me a workbook and tell me to do it at home. (I didn’t.)

    Some kids like the extra attention of being helped to do something they can do, and that’s not fair to the teacher.

    Yeah, that was my niece. She was sent home with the class shoe, and I looked at her teacher and went “Uh….” “Oh, it’s so she can learn to tie her shoes!” “But… she KNOWS how to tie her shoes.” “But she doesn’t. I’ve been doing it for her!” “Well, stop! She knows how to tie them, LOL!”

    However, unlike when I was a kid, we do have a solution to the shoe-tying problem that carries little stigma, or none at all. And yes, that’s the velcro. Nowadays you really can tell a kid who is 6 or 8 and can’t tie their shoes to wear other shoes until they can. (Which doesn’t mean I think they shouldn’t be encouraged to keep learning how to tie their shoes, but that I think there’s less stress (and therefore, it’s easier for them) without having to HAVE to do it.)

    Can I be sure they will never feel inadequate in life? Hell no.

    Fact is, my kid has a tendency to be insecure.

    I actually wasn’t insecure myself, and if I had been it would probably not have been because of my teachers unless they really WERE abusively bad. On the contrary, I usually got things right the first time, things that people valued as important, anyway. But after kindergarten I got a lot of pressure to “stop being babyish” about my shoes, and the truth was that wasn’t the case. I was immature in a lot of ways, but that wasn’t keeping me from shoe-tying. I simply didn’t have the skills to do it yet. I think that if I hadn’t had all that pressure I probably would’ve been tying my shoes by eight or nine. Instead, it took me a while to get over the stigma of even having to TRY to tie my shoes. At least with the laces out (or velcro!) I could call it a style choice.

    And I don’t think, after kindergarten, teachers should have to tie the shoes all the time either. Forget that! I’d rather teachers spend their days, you know, teaching. I just think we’re lucky enough to live in a world where we have shoe options, and…

    omigod. This is just like the formula and breastfeeding debate. Think about it.

  72. Actually, I thought this was a lot more friendly than the formula and breastfeeding debate, though admittedly I can only feel my side of the conversation, LOL.

    We have handwriting issues in my biological family, too. If I had a nickel for every time I got a paper back saying “do over” only due to the “neatness” aspect, I would have had a college fund. So frustrating, because after you erase and rewrite and erase and rewrite (because you’re going to KEEP getting it back until it’s “neat,”) the paper is going to look like the bottom of a birdcage anyway. Some of my siblings had teachers argue to flunk them just because they couldn’t physically keep up with the writing demands. Needless to say, most of us HATED elementary school with a passion. But somehow, none of us ended up being blithering idiots. Now, that was back in the days when there were basically only three categories of students – good, lazy, and “retarded.” Maybe nowadays teachers have a few more ideas on how to address fine motor issues.

    Fine motor ability isn’t an issue for my vision-impaired child. She can write lines and lines of small, neat letters (though only a handful that she recognizes). She is still somewhat of a mystery at this point.

  73. By the way, you DO plan to breastfeed, right???? Just kidding!!

  74. My grade 8 report card had the following comment from Mr. Garrett, my English teacher:

    Richard’s handwriting looks like a bug crawled across an ink pad and onto the page.

    My mom loved it.

  75. LOL, SKL. It’s hard to get more acerbic than the breastfeeding debates. Maybe if I brought up Santa….

  76. A few years ago my son had a friend over. At lunch time I told them to make themselves some sandwiches, they picked peanut butter and jelly. My son made his sandwich and handed the knife to his friend who had no idea what to do with it. Could not spread peanut butter on a slice of bread. They were around 10 years old at the time.

    About the boy scouts, the troop my son attends, which meets at our church, has a scoutmaster that’s Jewish. So if you don’t like the local troops emphasis, find another one. They are all very different depending on who leads them. Same with Girl Scouts. Our local troop does nothing but crafts so my daughter has no interest in it. She would really like to join the boy scouts so she can go camping.

  77. @Robin I’m deathly allergic to peanuts. Even touching something with traces of peanuts can put me in the ER.

    I was babysitting 2 cousins (around 4 and 7). The 4 yo was going through a I’m only eating peanut butter sandwiches stage – and is as stubborn as the day is long. Their Mom said, “well he can miss lunch for one day,”

    Lunch time came and his big sister (7 yo) offered to make him a sandwich. She was making the sandwich, when their Mom’s friend came by to pick something up. She was outraged. She called my cousin telling her what a horrible babysitter I was – Cousin laughed it off.

  78. kherbert – Funny! I’m sure she was using the longest, sharpest knife in the house to spread the peanut butter, right? My only rule for babysitters was that the kids were alive when I got home. Needless to say, my kids LOVED having babysitters!

  79. We are overprotecting our kids. Instead of teaching them proper boundaries and appropriate risk-taking we are lazy and just don’t bother to work with them

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