Bringing Up Boys: Adventure, Work and Play
It’s every boy’s dream to have a tree house. When we moved to 'the country’ my three homeschooled boys begged us to let them build a tree house by the river. Knowing the precariousness of gum trees, we said no. Yes, we felt mean, that's the lot of parents. But would you believe, amid those scruffy trees, many of which had fallen across the river, was a huge, lone oak tree? Judging by its size, it was planted many moons ago, by someone who may have had boys (do you think?), destined to be the home of a carefully crafted three storey tree house! Of course, I wanted my boys to be able to have a tree house and was as excited as them to discover the perfect tree.
Bringing up three sons has been a delightful experience throughout our homeschooling journey, and one which has taught me that three things are essential to raising responsible, hard- working and creative sons: adventure, work, and creative play. Homeschooling allowed our boys the freedom to develop these traits from an early age.
Living a semi-rural lifestyle was key to our boys being able to explore and satisfy their curiosity about the world around them. The tree house project consumed about a year of our boys’ lives, and most of their pocket money! They were 11, 13 and 17 at the time and if you asked them to describe the experience, they would tell you it was fun, adventurous and exciting. If you asked me, I would tell you it developed creativity, resourcefulness (aka scrounging), money management, teamwork, problem-solving and building skills. That’s a pretty typical homeschool parent list, but hey, it ticks the boxes.
Adventure (aka Resourcefulness, Problem Solving, Teamwork, and Labour)
Getting started was pretty easy. Scraps of wood and beams were found in farm bonfire piles and the local vineyard scrap heap. But most of that was about a kilometre away, across paddocks and river. Most of it was awkward and heavy. However, there just so happened to also be some large plastic drums in the scrap heap, so they constructed a raft, loaded it up and floated their supplies down river back to the oak tree. Anything they couldn’t float was dragged with rope.
The tree house building was consuming and addictive. One storey was not enough. It must be bigger, it must have more floor space and windows, and above all, it must be fit for sleeping in! One thing was certain, it got my boys up at 5 am nearly every day. Eager to get at it, most days they got their book work done by 10 am and spent the rest of their day ‘on site.’ I call it natural learning. Charlotte Mason called it ‘masterly inactivity’ (more on that another time). Whatever way you look at it, they learned just as much from this real life scenario as they did from any book.
Weekly trips to Bunnings kept up their supply of nails and hoop iron. Friends came over to help, often bringing bits of wood to contribute. My boys were the first to arrive at the next-door neighbour’s garage sale, scoring outrageous bargains of folding chairs for $2, a huge tarp, a net and yep, you guessed it, wood … and more wood.
Getting into the tree was the first challenge. It was a good 3 metres to the first fork. Not a problem, I was told, as I watched my sons scurry one by one up a VERY skinny branch which hung almost to the ground. You know, sometimes it’s just better not to look. Maybe that’s irresponsible, but most of the time, it’s the wisest thing to do for boys. Sometimes they need to get away with things like that. The neighbour donated a ladder, and there was no stopping them.
If you have children, and boys in particular, I don’t need to tell you how they naturally find new ways to play with whatever you give them. The tree house became a fort, look-out, and a hang-out. Creative play requires ingenuity, and it wasn’t long before a Flying-Fox-Across-the-River was on the drawing board. And the raft, remember that? Swimming in the river was not allowed – especially unsupervised – we drew the line there. But hey, falling off a raft was NOT swimming. How do you stop those little ‘accidents’? Making them wash river-reek out of their clothes did not deter them.
Once finished, the tree house, aptly named ‘Rivendell,' had platforms, balconies and three trap doors. It became a favourite place for our children and an icon in our little hamlet. Dads came to climb it and brought their kids as their excuse. An American backpacker cyclist has slept in it. Even the possums like it. Everyone looks after it, and it has never been vandalised.
If you want to teach your boys to focus on a task, bring it to fruition and share their labour with others – build a tree house. Undeniably, work converted to wonder, adventure to admiration, and creativity to character.