It is hard for me to let go of “control” (or whatever false sense of control I think I have). I spent my formative years in a public school system that failed to assign any sort of child-led or independent research until the upper highschool grades, at which point most of the students struggled because we were so used to being spoon-fed information, opinions, and the like. I was told how to act, how to think, how to feel. My interests and ideas nor the interests and ideas of my classmates was never really of much importance, and now as a parent I realize how much I *don’t* want any of that for my children. Still I struggle. I struggle to make sure that they feel supported to explore the world around them on their terms. I struggle to stand back and say nothing when I really want to call their attention away from whatever they are exploring to point out something I think would be more interesting. Who am I to tell them what is interesting? Only they can decide that.
Today I opened myself up to seeing the world from my children’s perspective and had a truly wonderful afternoon of child-led experiences in our own front yard.
It all started when LittleMan discovered a beetle floating in about 1/8 of an inch of rain water at the bottom of our paddling pool. I rushed to scoop the bug up and luckily we got there in time to save it. (Barely, the poor thing took awhile to recover.) It was quite the impressive bug, very large and with beautiful coloring. LittleMan asked what kind of bug it was so I rushed off to get my laptop and look it up. Once we found it on Wikipedia, I read the page to him including diet and habitat. He asked questions and we looked for near-by spaces where the bug might live.
My first instinct was to release the beetle somewhere safe but when I let go of control and opened myself up, LittleMan had an idea which I thought was just glorious. He wanted to make the bug a home, similar to what we had been looking at online, before releasing the bug. He had hoped if we made the home nice enough, the bug might decide to live there awhile and we could see him everyday. This of course wouldn’t work but I loved the idea and I especially loved LittleMan’s enthusiasm so I went along with it.
LittleMan built the home under a nearby tree by digging a small hole at the base of the tree, filling it loosely with leaves, then covering most of the hole with a rock however leaving a small entrance/exit space for the beetle.
Later it was SunnyGirl’s turn to impress me. She had been excited earlier in the day to be included in blowing bubbles with the big kids of our neighborhood, and she was not ready to put the bubble bottle away just yet. I was disappointed as I’d just made her a new toy and I wanted to encourage her to play with it.
She humored me for a few minutes but then went right back to her bubbles.
When she finally did decide to take a break from bubble blowing, she simply put the cap on the bottle, picked it up, and walked off. Again, my first instinct was to grab her and bring her back to the patio. She was wearing no shoes and walking away from our yard….but I resisted the urge to contain her and instead allowed her to lead her own way. The result was nothing short of amazing.
It took her 30 minutes to walk two buildings down. With me following a few feet behind her, and no older brother to direct her attention, SunnyGirl was truly free to explore her environment at her own pace and in her own ways. She stopped to run her fingers through some construction sand that had spilled on the sidewalk. She rolled pebbles between her hands. She pressed her face to tree bark. She stared at a bird on a nearby fence, who in turn stared back at her. The look on her face as she explored was simply mesmerizing. The strong intent and focus with which my [normally clumsy] toddler moved was inspiring.
As adults, we automatically have more life experience than the child, and that often makes us feel as if we know best what the child should be doing at any given time. Of course I’m always creating activities that are interest-based for LittleMan and SunnyGirl, but a real and true child led experience is less common, under-rated.
My children need my guidance, they crave it, they thrive with it. But sometimes they also just need me to support them as they go. Child-led experiences foster creativity, independence, confidence, problem solving abilities, and countless other qualities that I struggle with because I wasn’t given the opportunity for child-led experiences in my youth.
These experiences with LittleMan and SunnyGirl have been an eye-opener for me. I hope that in the future, when a lesson isn’t going the way I hope, or they don’t want to play with something I think they should love, I’ll remember this experience, and how letting go of the initial fear and frustration within me proved them an amazing and awe-inspiring opportunity for discovery.
I would love to hear from my readers about their own child led explorations, either as children themselves or as parents.by