Saturday, 30 May 2015

Learning to Let Go

This is a Featured Guest Post by Meaghan Jackson.  I love Meaghan's writing style and perspective on parenting and learning.  I hope you do too!  Check out her blog link at the bottom!  Enjoy.

Learning to let go and trust as a parent is not always easy.  We have been entrusted with the safety, development and education of our precious little ones.  The enormous weight of that can lay heavily upon us.  But I want to reassure you that trusting your children will build confidence in everyone in the family.  The benefits and blessings will overwhelm you!

Most children have a sense of their own limitations.  Okay so not all children or developmental stages have this down yet. It may not be apparent when your toddler is climbing chairs to get onto the table, but perhaps that child has good coordination and balance.  Take the same child to a park and let him/her go.  You will be impressed and maybe a little scared at first.  At some point you’ll notice that they might hesitate and not feel so comfortable, say with the pole or monkey bars.  As a parent you are there for overall safety, but do not need to hover or limit children from physical activity based on age.  The opposite is also true for a more hesitant child.  When I first started my daycare there was a little girl who clung to me while crossing the wide balance beam we had made. I was there to support her as she felt she needed it.  Now a few years later she will try to climb half way up a fallen tree before wanting my hand for extra stability.  Just try it out, stand back a bit and let your child go. They will feel so proud of themselves.  This is truly building self-confidence without false praise.

I also want you to only do what you feel comfortable with.  You know your own limitations.  For myself I tend to stop my boys when I know I can’t safely reach them or guide them down.  They love to climb trees, but at the moment they can only go so high before I don’t feel it is safe.  And that is okay.  We are a family exploring and learning together.  Something that has helped us when out in nature (even at home) is to teach the kids about risk assessment.  It doesn’t need to be too formal, but if my boys wanted to climb something I may simply say: “That sure looks like a lot of fun, what should we keep in mind to be sure you’ll be safe while climbing?”  We may look for broken branches or dangers on the ground.  The more often we talk about things together the more comfortable I feel as a parent letting go.  See now every one is feeling more confident and bonds between parent/child are strengthened.

Children learn when they are interested in something. Our babies learn to roll, crawl walk and talk without specific instruction or lessons.  Yet we feel the pressure to do more as they get older.  Every family makes their own choices about education.  It is a personal thing I know.  But no matter what choice you make you can still choose to trust that your child is naturally curious and wants to learn about the world around them.  Observe your child, take an interest in what they love.  Offer yourself more as a facilitator and see where that leads, even if that is after a regular school program.  I have plenty of posts on this over at my blog.  One big step we took was in trusting my son with learning to read.  He did this in his own time and that is okay.  When a child can be trusted to learn (this can be anything from academics, skipping, cooking…) they will grasp and retain it more deeply and often faster, because it means more to them.

Play is the work of children.  They take what they have observed and solidify the concepts in their play.  It is a beautiful thing that we need to encourage and embrace.  Children also learn through imitation.  It takes a great deal of courage as a parent to trust that their play is valuable and important.  Children need unstructured time to grow and develop.  To an adult it can look as a waste of time, or just silly play.  Some times we all need a little play time to unwind!  But when you trust and believe that what they are doing is of value, you will start to see the messy playroom through a different lens.  Once you start to research, read, ask questions and go with what you feel is best for your children, put it into practice.  You will gain more confidence in your self and start to trust yourself!  This can be a huge step for parents trying to make decisions that are different from family and friends around them.

Children can negotiate and work their way through social interactions we don’t always need to step in.  I have seen so much growth in my boys since starting to attend the Little Seeds meet-ups. One day in the forest the boys were playing some type of tagging game.  There were good guys and bad guys.  After a short while we noticed that all the bad guys wanted to be on the good team.  The children gathered to decide who should be on which team.  As parents we were curious to see how this might play out.  We stood back and watched with interest.  The children tried eenie-meenie-minie-mo to put people onto the bad team.  But then those kids still didn’t want to be bad guys.  So they talked some more and decided to play a different game entirely running up and down a hill.  It was beautiful.  Children are fully capable of collaborating, sharing their feeling and working together.  We also need to let go and allow the children to speak up and voice when they don’t like something that is happening.  This may take some adult help for the quieter spoken ones, but it really makes more of a difference to hear it from another child rather than an adult. 

Something that can help with social interactions is to play the roll of a sports-caster.  Simply stating back to the children what they are saying can help them to come up with solutions.  Our role again is to help them problem solve not to tell them what to do.  Try asking the children to come up with guidelines, rules, and solutions.  Often times they will come up with the same things or more than you had in mind.  It may take some time and not always work how you expected.  But over time they will learn valuable life skills and trust their own decision-making.  You will have more confidence in your child too.

Children can be trusted to make decisions.  Now this totally depends on your personal parenting style and comfort level.  If it doesn’t resonate with you that is okay.  In our home I try to let my boys have more freedom to make everyday decisions.  My older son will go outside to check the weather and then choose what he’d like to wear.  My younger son would live in footie jammies all day long, but prefers to get dressed if we are going out to a public place.  So I let them pick their clothes (from those that I’ve already sorted through and brought into our home).  If our home is well stocked with healthy food then my boys can pack their own snacks for an outing and help to make a lot of their own meals.  We do talk a lot about healthy eating and their personal food sensitivities.  I thought for sure when I gave them more freedom that they’d only eat junk.  Really they do eat variety over the week, provided it isn’t right before grocery day.  I’d like to encourage you wherever you are at to trust your children enough to give them more choices and freedom.  It will build their confidence and help to encourage cooperation since you aren’t always telling them what to do all day.

As you can see, when we let go a little and trust it builds confidence in everyone.  This allows more trust, deeper connections and amazing things to happen in our family!  If you are still unsure or hesitant about letting go of too much control, that it totally understandable.  Try journaling about your feelings.  Write down what you observe.  Take pictures or keep track of any successes.  Look back over your journal, especially on those rough days.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how far you’ve come!

Meaghan is the director of Learning in the Woods.  She also home schools her children and blogs over at Joyful Mud Puddles.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Learning Outside the Box

When was the first time you started to think outside the box?  Did it surprise you to find that you were outside the box or have you often held a seat on the outside looking in?

Our early childhood experiences often set us up for a life either inside society's institutions or outside the box, wondering why people are so locked into mindsets governed by rules they have never challenged and certainly never created.

I grew up with a family that functioned well inside the box.  I was taught the "code" to be successful and I have many advantages in my knapsack that make me an ideal candidate to succeed inside the box.  But I am a sensitive person and I just haven't ever felt authentic or happy living by those rules.

I have always had an interest in health, in a deeper sense.  Mind, body, and spirit. Self-awareness.  Happiness.  Learning.  I've been curious about what do people need to not just be well, but to really flourish in life.  So I studied those topics from different angles through my education and work. 

I remember the first article I read about a Democratic Free School.  It was in teacher's college, in a magazine about learning alternatives that was in a discard pile, free for the taking.  I read the article and felt so energized.  This is it!  This made so much sense!  From every angle I had ever researched, studied, and observed!  Children learn naturally!  We just have to provide a hub of interesting people and activities, supportive facilitators, freedom to choose, and time to pursue their curiosities. 

"We're doing it all wrong!" I happily shared in my teaching group.  I was met with polite smiles.  How could they not be as excited about this as I was?  Everything about teacher's college suddenlt seemed need freedom, nuturance, natural environments yet I learned how to control (for safety), judge (for accountability and comparison), and all the politics, language, and structure of the system that had been set up in the 1800's.  Today there are a lot of nice people in the system but it is rooted in autocratic power for a few and fear-based coercion for most.  It's hard to have everyone reach their full potential in a set up with those sorts of power imbalances as part of the fundamental structure.

While teaching, I worked with some wonderful colleagues.  I can honestly say that I LOVED every child in my care.  But I felt frustrated that some kids in this system just would not survive the judgments and comparisons, the structure, and the boredom without losing a piece of what made them so special.  Their enthusiasm had to be curbed into following lessons and schedules made for the masses.  Their energy had to be funneled into activities that they completed in order to please the adult in charge.  The kids that developed certain skills later were made to feel "behind" their peers.  Even the ones who were star students often lacked passion for what they were learning and didn't have a sense of who they were or what their true passions were. 

But it doesn't have to be that way.  There is learning that happens outside the box.  Some of you may know this already. (Wink wink, I'm looking at you, out of the box thinkers!)  But for those of you who feel like you are not a good fit for the public system, or if you feel you are being "pushed out", please know that the learning continues outside our public system.  And it's really beautiful.