Thursday, September 24, 2009


"Come on, come on, let's go! Get in the car or we're going to be late!" I barked at the kids this morning. L was due at preschool in a mere 10 minutes and they were messing around in the backyard, playing in the garden.

"Come on, get in the car" I said, aggravated and impatient. Finally the two of them walked up to me in the driveway, each with a flower they had chosen "just for you, mama."

This, of course, made me stop in my tracks.

I took a deep breath. I received the flowers they had chosen for me. I gave them each a big hug, and felt myself unwind.

As we drove to school, (and I tried not to speed!) I wondered, what's this rushing around for? Will it really matter if she's 5 minutes late to preschool? It's not a Presidential address, for goodness sakes. I tried to remember--when was the last day I allowed them to take their time, to lead me instead of the other way around? I feel like these days, I am constantly rushing my kids.

After dropping L off at school (late), I decided to forego the errands I had on our agenda, and I headed straght to a nature center in town. I told J "The morning is yours. You get to decide where we go, how long we stay, and what we do."

I set some rules for myself (see below), and here's what I learned about how J plays outside when there's no one telling him what/where/how to do things:

  • He spent most of his time inside a 10-foot radius.
  • He climbed up and down, up and down their boardwalky-bridge thing 18 times. In a row.
  • He asked me to sit next to him on the edge of this boardwalky-bridgy thing. He said, "I don't want to fall down there (pointing to a small streambed underneath) -You got me safe?"
  • He used his butt to create a slide down a slope, and I'll never get those pants clean again.
  • He spent a fair amount of time picking up sticks, large and small, and throwing them, javelin-style, through the air. Often at me.
  • Then he spent an equal amount of time jabbing them into the dirt, making caveman sounds.
  • He rolled logs with his butt.
  • He collected similar-sized rocks and lined them up in a neat row on a tree stump.
  • He found one plant that he described to me as "pokey" and;
  • He finally asked to leave after about 50 minutes.

Here's what I learned about myself during this experiment:

  • After watching him go up and down the boardwalky bridge thing 4 times, I really wanted to move on and it was hard not to try to redirect him to a different activity. I'm not sure why.
  • My first instinct was to say "no throwing sticks" but there was no one there besides us, and I knew he couldn't throw one hard enough to actually hurt me.
  • It was really difficult for me not to try to get him out of this little "circle of space" he was playing in. I felt like I needed to show him everything else there was to look at, do, etc.
  • It was hard not to ask questions about what he was doing, and why, and what he thought of things.

Try this today. Or tomorrow. But soon. It's good for everyone.

Take your child(ren) to someplace other than your usual nature destinations. Then let them be totally free to explore and play without your intervention. (I suggest a "new" place so that everyone is free from past rules, games, and expectations that have been set in familiar places)

Here are the rules:

  • Obviously, first, make sure everyone's going to be safe. Don't do this on a bluff overlooking the river.
  • Kids can do whatever they want, however they want, for as long as they want (if you need to set some parameters around this for safety's sake, fine, but allow as much freedom as possible)
  • Adults may not say 'no' unless someone is in imminent danger.
  • Adults may not lead the child into any activity. The job of the adult is to observe the child. The child decides what to do, how to do it, for how long.
  • If a child asks you to participate in some way, follow their instructions.
  • Don't ask questions. Just watch. And play, if invited.
  • When the child is ready to leave, leave. If at all possible, let the child decide when to go.

What do you think will happen? Will your kids play differently than you expect them to? How long will they be interested in things? What will the experience be like for you? Will it be difficult not to intervene in their play? Let me know what happens, and if anything surprises you.

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