How to - For Parents

She’s An Indoor Girl…

“I would love to sign her up for Woods and Wetlands but she’s just like me, such an indoor girl!”

And just like that, a door of possibility is closed to a seven year old child.

Parents usually know their children better than anyone else does, especially when children are still little.  But I worry about assigning labels at such a young age, especially when those labels are spoken out loud in front of that child.  We must remember that they are still shaping and reshaping themselves constantly, even from day to day!  Their bodies and brains will grow and change.  Their likes and dislikes are not set in stone, not ever, and certainly not in those early years of life!

Kids evolve.  They change.  One of the most wondrous elements of childhood is the freedom to change your mind as often as you please about everything from what you want to be when you grow up to the foods you like, to the activities that are fun for you. Children are not stuck in a job they don’t like.  They don’t go to work every day wishing they had become something else.  The whole world and their future are still wide open. Don’t we want that?  Do we really want to narrow it sooner than necessary? Influential adults and life experiences will inevitably refine their world as they grow and learn.  I think it’s really important that we adults take deliberate care and speak and behave with intention when it comes to defining a child.  We already know that they watch and listen as we model Life for them.  Think about what happens when an adult whom they love and trust speaks words that limit who they are.

“She hates vegetables.”

“He’s not good at reading.”

“She’s afraid of spiders.”

“He doesn’t like to play outside.”

“She’s a girlie-girl.”

“He’s all boy.”

They hear these labels and definitions and then form themselves around what you have already decided.  If you declare it, they will probably prove you right.

Instead, let’s leave their options wide open while we can.  Let’s say, “I know you tried spaghetti last month and didn’t like it, but maybe you will this time.”  and, “Yes, you did get cold last time you played in the woods, so maybe this time we can find different clothes for you to stay warm and have fun!” or, “I realize you fell and got hurt when you walked on a log last time, but I bet you will be stronger and have better balance if you try again!” and even, “I don’t really care for snakes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t like them or think they are interesting.”

We don’t need to place our own limitations and labels on our children.  Each child is his or her own person with limitless possibilities ahead and all around.  Let’s send them out into the world with the self confidence to keep trying, keep growing, and keep becoming who they want to be.


How to - For Parents

A Walk in the Rain

How often have you and your children stayed inside because it was raining or wet outside? Or too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid, or too dry?  When we retreat to our heated or air-conditioned homes every time the weather isn’t what we think of as, “perfect,” what are we teaching our children and reinforcing in ourselves?  How does that lesson translate when compared to Real Life?  You don’t have to go to a nature center to experience nature.  Any patch of it will do.

Let’s go for a walk.  Yes, I know it’s wet outside.  Yup; it might rain some more.  Let’s dress for it.  Let’s wear shoes we don’t care about getting wet, clothes that will keep us warm enough for an hour or so, and who cares if we get wet?  We will dry again and our skin… it’s amazing and magical because it’s naturally WATERPROOF!  Oh, I know you don’t want to, but we are going to anyway.  You will survive somehow.  Let’s go.

(And, leave your phone at home; trust me on this.  Or if you MUST bring it, then silence it and treat it like it only works in emergencies.  No, don’t even use the camera.  You don’t have to have a photograph of everything in life.  With any luck and maybe some basic care, the outdoors will still be there later.  You can just enjoy the experience and be totally PRESENT, not to mention modeling it for someone else…)

We can splash around in puddles here in the driveway if you want.  Wait!  Look at this! It’s so cool how this flower has water droplets hanging off the tips of every petal.  I wonder how this flower stayed intact even in that wind we had earlier?  How many days will it bloom?  Why is this bee sitting so still in the center?  Maybe it’s cold and not ready to move around.  Look at its soft, fuzzy back!  It looks kind of sweet and harmless right now.  Let’s get closer… aww.  Its face is actually cute when you really look at it!

Tired of puddles?  Okay; let’s walk a bit down the side of the road.  Whoops!  Look out for that frog!  It looks quite happy there in that little pot-hole in the gravel road, doesn’t it?  Maybe we should move it to the water by the side though, just in case a car comes by?  Oh!  Wow!  I guess it didn’t want to be held; there it goes!  I wonder how far frogs can jump in one leap?

Hey!  Check out this rock!

We squat over the shiny, wet rocks that make up this part of the gravel road and there is so much to notice.  That rock with the lightning bolt of white quartz blazing through the middle and the one that is just plain black but such a smooth and inviting shape and size to hold in your hand.  We can be entertained for many minutes, even hours, by rocks in the rain.  (or in the sun, the lake, the field pile…)

What is THAT?  I have never seen a mushroom like that before!  It wasn’t there yesterday, but it’s huge!  They just seem to pop out of nowhere, especially after the rain. How does that happen?  Look at the patterns on the underside of it!  They remind me of something I saw before under the hood of a car.

That tree trunk over there looks almost black but usually it’s sort of silvery.  Everything is darker in the rain.  I wonder where this rain was before it came here?  Did you know all the water on earth is the same water that has always been here?  That water that fell as rain is going to be recycled again.  It’s hard to imagine!

Oooh!  Look at all the cattails by the wetland!  They are so tall!  I remember in the spring when they only came up to my knee and now they are taller than I am.  Those brown, hot-dog-like parts weren’t there then either; they grew over the summer.  In one of my favorite books there’s a kid who lives off the land and he makes some kind of food with cattail roots.  I remember him saying they were, “starchy.”

Ssshhh.  Do you hear that?  I love that sound of the raindrops pattering on the leaves.  I noticed we are hardly even wet under the trees here.  …  It’s so quiet; I think the rain is stopping or slowing down.  Wait!  Do you hear THAT?  What IS that?  Let’s go out in the open and look.  Whoa!  Look at those birds!  They are making that sound!  I think they might be sandhill cranes!  Let’s count them.

I’m going to go walk along that log there.  Yikes!  It’s way more slippery than I thought it would be.  I guess rain makes things slippery.  It’s fun to try to balance though.  I’m going to try again…

Are you ready to go home?  I guess it’s time because I’m hungry now.  I’m so glad we took this walk and had this time together.  It was way more fun to see and do real things that aren’t happening on a screen.  Let’s do it again tomorrow!

This is just a tiny example of what a walk could look and sound like with a child.  You don’t have to know the names of anything or the answers to any questions.  You get to wonder and question right along with your child; they love that!  You might remember stories from when you played outside as a kid and your kids love to hear those stories!  You might discover something totally new together.  It might be a springboard for further research; maybe you will go home and read about something you wondered about during the walk. Perhaps you will find a place you’ve never been and there are no signs telling you not to go there.  And while you are there, maybe you will have an adventure, big or small, with your children.  

Memories are made, not watched on a screen.  Think back to your favorite childhood memories.  I bet most of them were real, and I will also bet that many were outdoors without structure or rules.  Don’t you want your child to have those same kinds of nostalgic memories someday?  You can do it.  You can send them outside and take them outside, and the rest will follow naturally.  Just give it a try.  Give it time.  It might not be easy at first, but you can do it.  I promise you will not regret it.