Last christmas, my eldest boy was desperate for a bow and arrows. It was all to do with the influence of Tolkien at our house, and his desire to be Legolas.
I enjoy archery a great deal myself. As a teenager, growing up on a small farm quite a way out of town, I had huge amounts of time and space to devote to it. Largely fueled by an imagination that lived in the middle ages, I also enjoyed archery because it is a sport you play largely by and against yourself. It is all about the constant replication of the same basic move, with some minor adaptations to allow for the conditions of each individual shot.
I became very good at it. I used to enjoy the fact that a subtle adjustment on my part would have such a large effect on the outcome all the way down the paddock. Of course, when my boy asked for a bow of his own, the question in my mind was not should he have one, but which one would be best.
After a bit of thought and research, I decided on a 10 lb fibreglass recurve bow. It is a very simple piece of equipment. The lightest weight that they came in, it is just strong enough to be a functioning tool rather than a cheap toy. It is also light enough that if he accidentally shot the car, his brother, or most importantly, me, the damage should be fairly minor.
We adopted the empty laneway next to our house as the shooting range. If we use every last bit of it, this gives us about 40 m to play with before our arrows start getting lost in the swamp. Coincidentally, that is also the maximum range you can get out of this bow. Even factoring in a big empty space behind the target to allow for over shooting, we still almost never use the whole thing.
Bow and arrows being the weapon of choice for detail oriented introverts everywhere, I was a bit surprised to find that he rapidly lost interest. Once the novelty wore off, he rarely picked up the bow, and was even less likely to shoot it at a target. In contrast, his younger brother just loved it. I am not entirely sure, but I think it is the idea that he can make such an impact on things at a distance which really appeals.
Unfortunately, the bow only comes with two arrows. Given some hard use, and the fact that we are shooting down a gravel lane, the arrows fairly quickly became damaged and finally broken beyond repair. Despite running out of arrows, the bow was not forgotten. It played a key role in a number of games, and was often used by both boys to shoot orcs and bad guys. Being the resident bad guy, I found myself frequently being pretend shot at. Even without arrows, it is an uncomfortable feeling.
Given that he was able to maintain such enthusiasm for archery for a good six months without any arrows, when my youngest boy turned four, I bought him a dozen arrows. Two is just not enough to do much with. I also bought him a bow of his own to avoid fights over ownership.
There were comments made from several people that arming a volatile four year old was an invitation to a nasty accident, and an unnecessary amount of pain. While I could see that the reasoning was fair enough, I obviously went ahead and did it anyway. I am trying to trust in the, sometimes difficult, idea that kids can be more responsible than they initially appear. Having said that, though, and even following a number of safety talks, the arrows are still kept separately and out of reach.
Still, every day, and sometimes twice a day, he asks to go out for a shoot. He has learned the names of the different sections of a bow and an arrow. He gets quite a good stance and attention to detail with what he is doing. He shoots with a charmingly instinctive action. He is also able to maintain his focus here for a lot longer than usual, which I thought was interesting.
We have a lot of quiet fun on our archery range. It is with a lot of pride that he likes to tell me ‘I am really good at this game.’