Recently, I discovered that not too far from my house is a magical place. It was within walking/biking distance — a place I’ve been past several times. But I never knew.
That is, until my kids showed me.
This little revelation came as an answer to a problem we as parents may not even know we have. The problem: Sometimes I think we make things too complicated.
This is not true with everything of course, but in some cases we may be to blame for our own frantic pace. We try to figure things out for our kids to do; ways to entertain them and keep them busy. We want them to have the opportunity for education, social growth, team building and cooperation.
So we construct it for them.
Surely they need our guidance — hello, that’s why we are here! But sometimes there’s a better way than planning an elaborate activity or throwing an extravagant play date.
Sometimes, they just need to go outside.
After hearing about this magical place my children visited with their neighborhood preschool, I told them they could show it to me on our next stay-home day. We set out — my 2-year-old in the bike trailer and my 5-year-old pedaling in the lead. When we arrived I looked around and thought perhaps he was mistaken. There wasn’t anything to see. It was just a little clearing just off the bike path near our home. Several trees grew wildly; various bushes and other brush were tangled together. I could see several sticks scattered about on the dirt. But other than that, there wasn’t much to it. At least in my eyes.
But for my two youngest children, it was magical.
Before I knew it, I was swept up in their world. In this place, the most remarkable things could happen. A single stick in the hands of my son and daughter effortlessly transformed from a writing utensil to a spoon to stir pretend food; from the beginnings of an imaginary campfire to a nail polish brush to “paint” Mommy’s nails. Later it became a screwdriver to build a “cabin” in the bushes and then the key to unlock the cabin door.
It was remarkable.
We stayed for a couple of hours, their enthusiasm never waning because when they lost interest in one activity, they simply created something else for themselves while I stood back and watched in awe.
This is not to say that every child’s imagination will flourish immediately when thrust into this kind of environment. For some, they have to be introduced to this opportunity for free, creative play gradually. But so often I have heard other parents say — and I have said myself — some version of “my kids are just bouncing off the walls today!” Usually I think that means I need to put together some sort of structured outing, or convolute some activity to distract them until the day ends. When I think about how frustrating those kinds of days can be, I love the quote from Erin Kenny, an internationally recognized leader in the Forest Kindergarten movement. She said, “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”
Sometimes, that’s all it takes to see their creativity flourish. And for you to get a little parental peace of mind.
Mostly Motherhood is a regular column discussing the ins and outs of parenthood and more. Read more, or share your thoughts with Lisa by contacting her here.