Lessons From Children

 

When my daughter was young, I often told her I was surprised that I’d lived so many years without her advice. I really did know how to cook, drive, plant a garden, or whatever I was doing that she would offer her instructions on how to do it better or, at least, right.

I recently spent several days with my grandchildren exploring, storytelling, walking in the woods, playing, and watching their favorite movies. Every activity was laced with their advice direction, and instructions just as my daughter did when she was their age. This time I watched, listened, learned and was reminded of the poignant beauty of innocent childhood. 

My first career was teaching preschool children. I have fond memories of what I learned from them. My daughter years later, reminded me of how to be in the world. This week, at the perfect time, I was reminded yet again of how to truly be in the world. I witnessed the way they approach life, build courage, and express their natural resourcefulness. 

Now back home, I am filled with their fresh innocence as they learn to face life head on with fierce and fearless determination. I reflect on my time with them with a smile on my face and in my heart. I also ponder a question, when and why do we (as adults) lose the presence and fearlessness in life?

Here is some of what I learned and was reminded of:

  1. Word Quotas: I am certain we wake each day with a word quota that must be used by the time we tuck into bed. Children use up their word quota through storytelling, lengthy strings of thought, words, and fragments of thoughts whether or not they make sense. Brother and sister would walk along both talking (at the same time) without interruption in order to use up their work quota for the day.

2.   Food is Life: Ok, most kids have strong opinions about what they will or won’t eat,      what color plate is needed for any particular meal, and a clear opinion about how the food must be arranged on said plate. Snacks are an ongoing part of the day. In fact, any time of the day is perfect for a snack. 6 am? perfect! After a meal? of course! After a walk? Definitely! Just because? What a great time for a snack! They snacked on fruit, rice cakes, chips, or whatever is within reach on their snack shelf. They are always hungry. Food is life, isn’t it?

3. Life is play: Laughter, tears, a variety of voices & names, and an abundance of stuffed animals, action figures, cars, paper, and even the dogs are essential props in creative play. I witnessed hours of role playing. They were acting out different scenarios and responses they’d experienced in real life interactions. I was listening to them replay events with different responses and solutions to ‘real’ situations. I believe all this role playing was a way to integrate their experiences and practice possible resolutions and responses for next time.

4. Letting Go & Moving On: Pitch a disproportionate fit to a situation. Every so often a burst ofI screaming, crying, throwing, kicking, or flinging themselves to the floor emerged. When this happened, I learned it best to let it go and run its course unless there was injury. Within minutes, the drama would end and he/she would return to play as if nothing had just happened. The dramatic tantrum and the reason they were acting out allowed them to let it go and move on. Brilliant!

5. The Outdoors is an Important Classroom: We went out for a walk in a snow storm and another walk the next day, mostly in mud. We went to experience the wildlife and be out in the delight of fresh snow. Walking with children is a slow wandering as I follow their lead. They look for birds, squirrels, fox, and deer. During the storm, we saw ducks, geese, and a fox. We also noticed animal tracks in the snow before us. My heart swells watching them love the outdoors. On our next walk, we saw a bald eagle, a hawk, geese, and the eagle’s nest. 

6. How to be Out in Nature: I love Forest Therapy (Shinrin Yoku) and I have learned much from my grandchildren beyond the slow wandering. Walking through the mud is an exercise in balance and much more fun than walking around the mud. Jumping in puddles creates an exciting splash. What fun is missed by keeping your shoes dry and walking around the puddle? As you walk, look down, look up, and look in wonder at what nature has to offer. Nature is truly an abundant learning environment.

7. Curiosity, A Growth Necessity: Nearly everything children do is approached with curiosity. Through their curious wanderings outside, their curious explorations in play, and even with how to eat a meal, curiosity is a foundation for childhood. It is how we learn about what we like and don’t like. It is also how we learn about who we are in every situation. Curiosity maintains a sense of wonder in any activity.

8. Be Fearless: Climb trees, jump off the top step, play in every patch of snow or dirt, make fishing rods and bows out of branches and string. When you fall down, get back up with determination and try again. We learned to walk, run, and ride a bike by being fearless. Safety is for the adults in attendance, however, don’t hover.

9. Yes, I Hear You But…: Listening is selective. Yes, I hear you telling me to slow down or be careful or lower the volume, kind of… I realized that it wasn’t that they didn’t hear, it was that their forward energy was already in motion. Sometimes we keep going when there is wisdom in slowing down or stopping. We’re already in motion in thought. I watched, in real time, how every creation and action begins with a thought.

I am already planning my next visit for what I might learn! Life is our classroom and children show us what we, as adults, have forgotten. Being with children, I experience life with more presence, fun, engagement, and curiosity. They are wonderful teachers & guides for living with humor, courage, and noticing.

Nature Deficit Disorder

 

 

“Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
~ “The Last Child In the Woods” by Richard Louv

Do you play? How do you play? Do you spend time wandering in nature? Perhaps play is a memory from your childhood traded in for the responsibilities and busy-ness of adult living?

For the last four months I’ve had the gift of both witnessing and participating in the play of my grandchildren. From the time they wake until bedtime, they are involved in some form of play. Life is an endless stream of curiosity and exploration. As I watch them, I remember my own childhood of play with Pennsylvania farmland as my back yard.

Except for weekdays in school, I remember being outdoors soon after breakfast until lunch, then out again until dinner. In the summer we would be out again after dinner until just after dark. The only time we stayed indoors was if the weather prevented us or if we were sick.

With plentiful seasonal clothing, I learned to love being outdoors and using whatever was available as props for play. My siblings and I made up endless stories and games for fun. I remember knowing the names of trees, bushes, and flowers that grew around our neighborhood.

Now, I am grateful for the days, seasons, and years spent outdoors. I am grateful to my mother for sending us outdoors throughout my childhood. As an adult, I prefer the outdoors to being indoors. I prefer curiosity and creativity in nature over sitting in front of the television or my computer. Most days I look for ways to get outdoors to walk, stretch, work, and enjoy the changing weather and seasons.

In the last decade or more it has become increasingly rare to see children outdoors simply playing (even at playgrounds). Though I understand the dilemma parents must face now — fear of children being bullied, abducted, or our own over organized schedules preventing time for play, as well as the hours of homework children must do after school — I wonder if we are robbing our children of important play and exploration, without a schedule.

Today, the process of squelching play begins at younger ages (even in preschool). We exchange their natural curiosity of learning through play for standardized tests so they can succeed in the world of academia. Are we robbing them of something essential? I believe so.

Watching my grandchildren in their play, I see that play is their learning. Through their play they are acquiring knowledge and important skills they’ll need for life. I am excited by their enthusiasm, curiosity, and exuberance as they run, explore, use their imaginations, and ask endless questions about what surrounds them in nature. Being outdoors has seen them grow in so many ways. My almost seven year old granddaughter can take you on a nature tour, identifying flowers, plants, and trees she has learned. My grandson, who is just two, has improved his running style, digging skills, and strengthened his bond with his ‘always by his side’ dog. They have both honed their frisbee throwing, gardening, and ball throwing skills. As a family we have enjoyed hours of birdwatching while the seasons have changed from winter to summer. On rainy days or just before bed, we listen and learn the birdsongs of the birds we’ve seen. Walks in the woods now include listening as well as seeing to identify birds.

We’ve rescued birds, turtles, and toads from danger or injury. We’ve made a nature book to create pages with nature’s findings — butterfly wings, leaves, feathers, and treasures.

Richard Louv in his eye-opening book, “The Last Child In The Woods”, speaks about the decline of children being outdoors to hike, walk, fish, play, and garden. Science studies indicate that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. Louv has coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and speaks of children missing out on important outdoor play and exploration. Florence Williams in her book, “The Nature Fix”, has followed scientists around the world who study the positive effects of being in nature. When we are outdoors in nature — the woods, the beach, or hiking mountains — we can lower blood pressure, calm our minds, and decrease the effects of daily stress. Nature allows us to be more creative, improve problem solving skills, and leads us back to our busy lives refreshed.

The fresh air, the changing seasons as well as the sunshine has helped my grandchildren grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. They have become more independent and resilient being in a natural setting. Each day they are filled with nature. They are not experiencing nature deficit disorder that is so common with children today.

For myself, I’ve re-learned to relax into play and exploration while letting some of my ‘responsible to do’ lists take a back seat. I enjoy watching butterflies land on flowers, hummingbirds drink from the feeders, and looking for toads.

Do you play? How do you play?