Watching the Hurricane climb a tree my mind began to race, the ‘what ifs‘, creeping, crawling in through the crevices, chipping slowly away at me. I see his small hands reaching for the frail branch, my gut instinct tugging and pulling at my insides, mentally screaming at him stop, don’t, no, you’ll fall. In that moment I have to make a choice as parent.
I can, and more often than not, have intervened, putting a stop to an action before an accident or consequence has occurred. Guilty as charged, call it natural or maternal/paternal instinct, but we are wired, equipped and programmed to prevent any harm or danger coming to our children and there is nothing wrong with wanting and feeling that, it would be unnatural not too.
However, in that moment, I could also take control of something that comes so naturally to me, alter my perspective and look beyond my what if fears and turn them on their head, flipping negative, nagging to a positive moment of crucial learning.
What if the Hurricane does take hold of that weaker, creaking, cracking branch and identifies himself that it is not the best nor the safest path to pursue. Wow. Now that branch full of risk and full of my fear has given my Hurricane the opportunity to problem solve, to navigate, to identify, to choose and to follow a better, sturdier and successful climbing path.
On the other hand, what if the Hurricane did choose to take hold and continue his climb with the weaker branch, it creeks, it cracks, he stumbles and yes he does fall. A few bruises, a scuffed knee, of course an abundance of tears, and there I am, arms open wide, ready with that ever reassuring, supportive, cradling hug. He’ll fold into my embrace, nuzzle in, a few snuffles and it’s all over. Then wow! He’s off and he is up that tree again but this time he will seek the safer path having made a mistake and learnt from it.
Two scenarios but both leading to a huge, pivotal moment for my exploring Hurricane and myself. By controlling my fears, my inhibitions and my what if’s, the Hurricane could have fallen but in the same breath he could have soared!
Children need to be given supportive room to grow and ultimately to fail, to trip, to stumble, to fall, to make mess and grow from errors. I am not saying to throw away all our cares and protective stirrings, there are of course limitations, but more so, broaden our boundaries and increase our comfort zones in order to foster, encourage and support the growth and exploration of our children.
Children are beautifully equipped with little to no inhibitions, a blank canvas, open and absorbing, seeking and discovering without the withdrawing and withholding we as adults have evolved over time. It is in their natural make up, they crave to experience, they crave to learn and in order to nourish this they must involve themselves in action, learning by doing.
This fostering of supportive risk taking can also be reflected in the idea of messy play. We as parents can often become preoccupied with the picture perfect image and over simplify the basics. Setting up structured play or a learning enriched environment for your little ones is a great stepping stone to exploration and learning. Painting, craft, box construction, block building, drawing, play dough, puzzles, dress ups, toys, all wonderful and essential elements of play based learning. Children thrive in these experiences however we as parents can often make the mistake of placing restrictions on their exploration, halting before the true magic can unfold. Our own inhibitions can often over shadow the lack of theirs, with occupying worries of mess, disorder, dirt, wet or ruined clothes, we potentially narrow our view of what could wonderfully occur if we allow our children space and freedom to express themselves.
For example, I had planned a structured outdoor activity for the Hurricane in the garden. I had placed his larger trucks in amongst the rocks and loose dirt in the prospect of a structure sand play experience. Digging, dumping, driving, tracking, piling,already in momentum, but after a time I could see his curiosity sparking and his eagerness to discover drive him outside the structured implied restraints. He was off, quickly he found a pot from the kitchen, running back outside I spied him filling the pot with water from the outdoor tap. Full and spilling over he fumbled, slopping back to his trucks and the dirt and in a rush of exhilarating excitement, pouring from the pot, the water cascaded down upon the structure, shattering the restraints and transforming it into an amazing moment of muddied magic!
In that mess he has not only constructed a full bottle learning experience covering properties of change, measurement, more or less, elements of nature, but he has used and harnessed essential problem solving skills, that while may look simple and small to us are unbelievably important to their growth and development. Not to mention the sublime joy, happiness and sense of accomplishment beaming from the Hurricanes face and yes he was covered from head to toe in glorious mud!
Structured activities can be used at a foundation level, as a spring board for unstructured, uninhibited freedom of expression, allowing children to be children and learn by doing, learn through experience and learn through mess and play!
This time of play is such a small window of opportunity for our little ones, it is special, it is magical, and it is monumental to shaping their little selves into their future ambitious adult. They must make mistakes in order to learn from them, they must fall in order to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, and they must fail in order to try again, challenge their constructs and better themselves to the best of their abilities.