Thursday, March 21, 2013

101 things to do with children something daring

The deck off the back of our house was covered in fresh, fluffy snow. As we finished our dinner, J was eyeing the deck out the window. He had that look in his eye, and I knew he was cooking something up. 

In a flash, he jumped off his chair, ripped open the door, and dashed out into the snow. Barefoot. 

Within seconds, L was peeling her socks off and dashing out the door after him. 

The kids were dancing around in the snow in their bare feet, squealing with delight and shrieking from the cold. 

In seconds, they dashed back inside and climbed up onto the couch, where I wrapped their cold, pink feet in their favorite blankies, and we laughed, marveling at their bravery. How daring they were! How exciting to run outside barefoot! In the winter! "I bet no one has ever done that before!" said L, satisfied with herself.

They were so impressed with themselves for being brave enough to do that-and it gave them a bit of smug satisfaction to know that they'd done something that even their mom was not willing to do.  I admit, I've never once had the desire to know what it feels like to run in the snow barefoot. Not something I'd actually try, but if my children want to give it a whirl, well, why not? They were proud,  they had just taken a huge risk and challenged themselves physically. How exciting!

As parents, educators-all of us who work with children, we're constantly weighing  the risk-to-benefit ratio. When it comes to nature play, there are constantly risks. But the benefits are huge Yes, someone could have gotten cold. in fact, they both did, which is why they came inside immediately. But the freedom to try something new is what's important. More so, in my opinion, than the need to stay warm and non-frostbitten. In this case, the risk was really small: a bit of mild discomfort, maybe, but nothing more.   

Assessing risk is automatic, healthy, and necessary,  but the tendency of many adults is to steer children away from activities that present any risk at all. 

Do I encourage my children to go outdoors barefoot in the winter? No, I do not. Would I permit them to do this on a regular basis, or allow them to stand around in the snow with no shoes on for a long time? Of course not. (and I challenge you to find any child that would actually want to run through the snow barefoot on a regular basis...)   But what's the harm in trying something once? Try to challenge yourself: allow children to take risks and test their freedom.

If the risk is negligible, or rather,  manageable, and the benefits outweigh the risks, why not go for it? It's exciting, and creates a memory they will have forever. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

101 things to do outside...#24...let yourself be annoyed (just this once)

"Come on."  I said to J last week, on the way to his sister's school a few blocks away.  We were shuffling down the sidewalk. It was covered in about an inch of ice.  Scratch that "we"- I was shuffling along, trying to stay upright despite my hyperactive 60 pound dog, who was dashing and leaping and jerking and trying to chase squirrels, all while slipping and losing her balance on the ice. She looked like Bambi, legs splayed out in all directions. In the distance, the school bell rang. We were late-again.

J was climbing a snowbank. Backwards. With his eyes closed.

On most days I would love the backwards-eyes closed-snowbank-climbing antics. Many days, I'd even join in. Most days I allow extra time on the walk to school for this sort of dawdling. But on this particular day? It just made me crabby.  Well, OK, I'll admit it: I was crabby to begin with.  Anyone who's here in Minnesota can relate. It's been a long, long, loooooong winter here in the Northland. I'm tired of coats. Tired of ice. Tired of snow, slush, cold. I miss the sunshine. It was cold and gray. The sky has been gray for so long....

And we were running late! I just wanted to get to the school, retrieve L, and get home so we could warm up. (yes, I know, I should have been dressed for the weather.)

I was not amused by J's revelry. His delight and insistence on playing seemed to do nothing more than to slow us down.

"Do you really have to stop at every single snowbank?" I wondered, gritting my teeth. He smiled, then slid down an icy patch, shrieking with delight.  "Let's go, we're late! Come on!" I griped. Then the dog jerked my arm out of its socket when a smaller dog went trotting by across the street. I fell onto my hip, dropped the dog leash, and had to scramble across the icy sidewalk to catch her as she dashed off after the neighbor's dog.

Finally, I had the leash, and J was by my side, having promised to "stop fooling around" at my insistence. (Oh God, did I really say that to him?) We scrambled up the icy hill to school, retrieved L, and the kids immediately threw themselves into the nearest snowbank, while the dog proceeded to go bananas over a nearby squirrel.

I had time on the walk home to collect my thoughts, while the kids played, jumped, climbed and slid. At every single snowbank. And how did I spend that time? I spent it questioning, judging and berating myself for being annoyed and impatient with J earlier. After a few solid minutes of wondering why I couldn't just go with the flow, revel in his slow pace, enjoy the spontaneous opportunities for nature play, it hit me.

Sometimes, it's just annoying to stop at every single snowbank.

Once I admitted that to myself, I felt a whole lot better. When you're running late, and you need to be somewhere, or -darn it-even if you just don't want to stop so often, it's annoying. And sometimes, parents, teachers, we all need to just be OK with feeling annoyed. But here's the thing: I didn't let that annoyed feeling make me stop the kids from playing, and I forced myself to stop rushing them. We weren't late for anything. We had time. I stood there quietly, indulging their play, because I know it has such value and importance.

But I decided there is value also to letting go of the expectation that I'm going to be perfect--indulging in nature play whenever and wherever, and always with a smile on my face. It's OK not to love every second of kids' nature play--sometimes it's not convenient or comfortable.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

101 things...#23...notice the little details

Is it because children are so close to the ground that they are excellent at noticing tiny details? I don't know but I am constantly amazed and delighted by the things they point out.

Just last week L noticed a heart-shaped melty patch in the ice.

Finally, spring is coming, and what a lovely little hint of that to discover this:

I never would have picked that out of the slushy, icy sidewalk. My goal was simply to get to where we were going.

Adults are constantly on the move and children can help us slow down and notice the little things all around us. Can you follow a child's lead and let them show you the special and beautiful little details that would otherwise go unnoticed?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

101 things to do outside with children #22...a little perspective, please!

-I mean a child's perspective, not yours. 

A friend recently shared this amazing photo of a snow castle on Facebook:

 I saw the photo after we'd come in from a day of playing in the snow, sledding, and piling up a ton of snow in the yard for a gigantic snow fort of our own.

Here it is:


 After seeing the amazing snow castle, I suddenly felt that our snow fort was, well, somehow lacking. I mean, it was nothing more than a glorified heap, really. It didn't even have a door. How could it possibly compare to something so beautiful, so amazing? I looked out the window, fighting the urge to go back outside and fancy up our snow fort. Maybe carve out some cool windows, maybe hollow it out a bit so we could chill inside it for a while. At the very least, I thought, I should put up a flag.

Then, thank goodness, my friend reminded me that to my children, our snow heap is just as good, if not better, than that fancy shmancy snow heap.It's all a matter of perspective.

To children, the work and fun and sense of adventure that happens when you create something together is HUGE. Bigger, more important than anything else. More important than fancy decorations, more important than size. After all, the three of us spent time together piling up the snow, working hard to get it "just right" and then climbed it and slid down it on our bums, over and over. All afternoon. We laughed together, played together, and when we finished building it, we sat by a fire and warmed our toes together. I'm betting the folks who built the castle of snow didn't even touch their completed work.