My kids, like most exuberant children of their age, love to disarrange the universe. They stack blocks with the principal goal of knocking them down; they pour paint with the hope of maximally mixing and sliming it; they delight in scattering, smashing, and taking things apart.
I, however, like to build things. And only recently have I found it possible to include them -- really include them -- in my projects.
Last weekend was something of a breakthrough, as they assisted, off and on, in the latter stages of constructing a bean house for next summer's garden at our cabin upstate. This year, we had a bean tunnel -- metal fencing in a big arch, with thick vines of pole beans climbing up it. They found it initially delightful but ultimately too small, so I decided to repurpose some old bookshelves into a grander frame for next year's bean crop.
I started the project, I will admit, in their absence. But I realized that, so long as I had already worked the design out in my head and was feeling sufficiently patient, there were lots of things they could do to assist.
They steadied boards while I sawed, studied my miter box with utter fascination, even did a bit of sawing themselves. Then I got out the drill, and they were in heaven, helping me screw the boards together.
When they became restless, I gave them a couple of levels to play with, which occupied them for a good long time. When even that failed, I got out a big jumbled tray of different-sized screws and set them to work sorting them out.
What were they learning? Some physics and math, to be sure. Maybe even some rudimentary carpentry. But more than that, I hope, they were learning something more basic about the satisfaction of creating something yourself, the magic of transforming raw materials into something new and wondrous.
I think they felt some of this magic, for they were so excited as the house was taking shape that they insisted we eat dinner in it that very night, with boards perched in the corners for seats. We sat sharing a scruffy meal of chicken sausages as darkness fell, and watched together as first the planets and then the countless stars appeared in the clear sky overhead.
The next day, we moved the half-finished structure into our garden, dug a level base for it, and added the frame for the roof. The kids helped plant grass seed for the floor; in the spring, we'll attach some sort of mesh to the sides to function as a trellis, then plant bean seeds and bright marigolds in the built-in boxes all around it. I'm not sure who is anticipating this more eagerly, me or them.