“Why, why, why?”: Embracing and encouraging curiosity

Encouraging Creativity

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher, and that I now love as a parent, is spending time with little ones who approach life with wondering, questioning, and exploring. Curiosity truly is a gift, and kids have it in abundance.

I strive to keep a zest for learning in my own life, and I also want to nourish that love of learning in my girls as they grow. Here are some of the ways we’re keeping the spark of curiosity in our daily life:

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5 Positive Character Traits Encouraged by Free-Range Parenting

kayakerphoto by woodleywonderworks

I hope yesterday’s conversation inspired those who haven’t yet read Free-Range Kids to find a way to get your hands on a copy.  The book speaks to something far beyond allowing our children to walk down the mailbox by themselves.  In fact, the reason I chose this book as our first book talk selection is because in it’s entirety, the Free-Range Kids philosophy echoes the underlying premise of our community: uncomplicated parenting.

When we can free ourselves from the bondage of fear and shake off the shackles of consumerism-driven parenting products, we will have the freedom to raise children who are confident, educated, and equipped to thrive in the life that awaits them when enter into adulthood.

Parents who adopt a more free-range approach to parenting will most likely find that their children possess:

1. A sense of adventure

Not every parent is ready to allow her child to ride the NYC subway home unattended, but free-range parents know that going on adventure sparks imagination and cultivates a joie de vivre that can’t be recreated by Wii.  These are parents who intentionally and thoughtfully plan adventures – large and small – and either enjoy them together as a family or gradually allow more and more of the adventure to be experienced by children as individuals who are growing and maturing into greater capacity for trustworthiness.

A child who is raised in a home where adventure is celebrated is a child who will have the confidence and desire to seek it out on his own as an adult.

2. High-level problem solving skills

The absolute antithesis of free-range parenting is “helicopter parenting” – so named for the parents who hover over their child’s every activity, circumstance, and situation.  Free-range parents aren’t afraid to allow a child to try something and fail; they resist that universal parental urge to step in, intercede, and create a positive outcome.  In doing so, free-range parents allow their children to become resourceful.

When there is no parent hovering close by, a child must figure out the solution to a problem on her own.  Higher-level problem solving skills can only be developed through experiential trial-and-error.  We want our children to become adults who utilize the resources of any given situation to come up with workable (and even unexpected) solutions.  Our children can never learn this until we are willing to loosen our grasp of them.

3. An appreciation for simplicity

One of my favorite chapters in Free-Range Kids is entitled, “Boycott Baby Knee Pads.”  In this chapter, Skenazy examines the amusing (if not a little outrageous) products and services marketed to parents – all in the name of good parenting.  Free-range parents reject the idea that we have to have lots of stuff in our homes to successfully raise our children.  Many educational and safety products are rendered unnecessary when we place a higher premium on common sense, interaction, and experience than we place on buying stuff.

When children are raised in a home that is uncluttered and unaffected by our culture’s ongoing encouragement to buy! buy! buy!, they grow into adults who are not so easily swayed by the latest gadgets and gizmos.

4. Self-confidence

In examining how parents often operate under the illusion of Total Control (complete control of our children, their choices, and their circumstances), Skenazy writes

There is an idea in the air that somehow, if we just involve ourselves enough in our children’s lives and think ahead and make a lot of plans and decisions, our children will be able to sail through their days, happy and successful.

Of course, we all know there is no such thing as Total Control over our children.  But when we act out of that mindset, we cripple their ability to see themselves as separate, independent, and capable beings.  How will they develop confidence in their ability to function as an individual if they have never been given the freedom to be an individual?

Free-range parents realize that part of growing up is growing into an acceptance and confidence in who you are as a person and are willing to step back a little (or even a lot) to create space for a healthy sense of confidence to mature.

5. Independence

As Ms. Skenazy concludes the book, she makes a plea for parents to foster a sense of independence in our children as they grow.

On page 193, she writes

Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive.  It’s not about having that world pointed out to you by a DVD or a video game or by your mom as you drive by.  “See honey?  That’s called a ‘forest’.  Can you spell forest?”

We want our children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll bet that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself.  These are childhood’s magical words: “I did it by myself!”

A wonderful thing happens when we start to trust ourselves rather than parenting experts or the evening news – we begin to see our children’s growing up years through the lens of all we want them to experience, rather than all we want to protect them from.

When my children leave childhood behind and walk forward into adulthood, I hope and pray they will go forth with a firm sense of independence and assuredness that won’t be easily swayed.  When challenges arise, I hope their first instinct won’t be to look around and wonder, “Where’s Mom?  Can Dad fix this for me?” Instead, I want to create a childhood that fills them with all the tools and knowledge and confidence they need to enjoy an adulthood that is happily and healthily independent from me.

*****
Two exciting opportunities I want to make you aware of:
1) Tonight at 8 PM EST, Summit Series for Families will be interviewing Lenore Skenazy. Phone lines will be open for live calls, so if there is a question or comment you have for this author, tonight is the night to connect with her live!
and
2) Tomorrow at 10 AM EST, @SimpleKids and @FreeRangeKids will be tweeting-up!  We invite you to join us on Twitter to talk about all things Free-Range Parenting.  This is another chance to have Ms. Skenazy weigh in on your questions and respond to your feedback.  I hope to see you there!

Preparing for Our Free-Range Kids Book Talk

frkOn October 1st, Simple Kids will host our first ever community-wide book talk. I’ve chosen Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry for our first book discussion.

Each day next week, I’ll be sharing posts inspired by the “free-range” philosophy, and on Thursday we’ll come together to share our thoughts on the book itself.  Here is how the book talk will work:

1) If you are a blogger, please publish a post any day next week with your thoughts on the following questions:

a) Which passage or chapter did you find to be the most profound, informative, or eye-opening?
b) Were there passages/chapters with which you do not agree?  Why?
c) What impact has reading Free-Range Kids had on your parenting philosophies and choices?  Were you inspired to make any changes to your approach to parenting?  Did you feel affirmed in any of your parenting decisions?  Explain.

If you are not a blogger or would prefer not to post your thoughts on your own blog,  please prepare your answers to share in a comment on next Thursday’s post.

2) On Thursday, please publish the link to your post discussing Free-Range Kids in the Book Talk post which will be published here at Simple Kids.

3) To encourage a spirit of community discussion, I would ask that once you have published your comment and/or link to your own post, please visit the discussion links posted before and after your own.

This book had a powerful impact on some of my beliefs about parenting.  I am so interested to hear the thoughts and reactions of others!  I look forward to hearing what you have to share next week.

From the Archives: Bathtime Meditations

Today I’m revisiting the Simple Kids archives to share one of the first articles I wrote after taking over Simple Kids last spring.  We have added so many new readers to our community since that time!  Now that the summer season has drawn to a close and many families have settled into familiar rhythms and routines, I thought it would be timely to revisit a universal aspect of parenting: bathtime.

bathtubfunphoto courtesy of Ernst Moeksis

Bathtime is an important part of our evening ritual. For both of my daughters, time in the tub signals the end of the day, and they know the pouring and splashing and washing and rinsing will soon give way to pajamas, storytime, and lights out.

Now that my girls are older, I bathe them together every night.  This works nicely for me because they love to play together in the tub, and I find I can bring a magazine, book, or my daily docket for the following day to keep me occupied as I sit closeby to supervise the bathtime play.  While this does offer some much-needed wind-down time for me, it occurred to me a few weeks ago that bathing the girls could also provide me with just a few minutes to be mindful in my end-of-the-day connection with my girls.

What does a bathtime meditation look like?  Here are three ideas to get you started:

1. Prayer

As I bathe each daughter, I might say a simple prayer like, “Thank you, God, for these sweet little feet.  May they carry her to exciting places to do life-changing things someday,” or “What a blessing this chubby cheeks are to me.  May her smile be an encouragement to everyone she encounters.”

Even if you aren’t a participant in organized religion, you might think of ways to speak positive thoughts over your children as you spend a few mindful minutes bathing them.

2. Gratitude

Whether your child is six weeks or six years old, I think it is important to model gratitude.  You might say something like, “I’m so thankful we got to go to the library today!  We have so many new books to read!” or “I am so thankful for the visit from Grandma and Grandpa.  They love you so much.”

As your children get older, encourage them to offer their own words of gratitude and appreciate for the day.  The things my four year old comes up with to be thankful for always bring a smile to me.

3. Affirmation

This is particularly important to me at the end of the of a day that has been filled with more tears than giggles and more correction than encouragement.  My oldest daughter went through a phase where one hundred was absolutely the biggest thing she could imagine, so I might say something like, “You know, I love you ONE HUNDRED!”  Or I might tell my toddler, “Even if you marked on every wall in every house on every street, I would still love you so very, very much.”

Sometimes we get silly and say things like, “I’d love you even if your elbows looked like your knees and you had horsey breath!” and “If your hair looked like a rainbow and your nose looked like a blueberry, you’d be my most favorite rainbow-haired, blueberry-nosed person in the whole world!”

Now certainly, there are evenings when I really do just lose myself in the glossy, perfectly put-together pages of Real Simple or enjoy a few precious minutes with pen and paper and no one trying to grab them from my hands.  But every now and again, I pause and remember to turn the time spent kneeling beside the tub into a mindful, intentional, reflective celebration of my daughters and our day.

What makes bathtime special for you and your children?

Bathtime Meditations

bathtubfun1

Bathtime is an important part of our evening ritual.  For both of my daughters, time in the tub signals the end of the day, and they know the pouring and splashing and washing and rinsing will soon give way to pajamas, storytime, and lights out.

Now that my girls are older, I bathe them together every night.  This works nicely for me because they love to play together in the tub, and I find I can bring a magazine, book, or my daily docket for the following day to keep me occupied as I sit closeby to supervise the bathtime play.  While this does offer some much-needed wind-down time for me, it occurred to me a few weeks ago that bathing the girls could also provide me with just a few minutes to be mindful in my end-of-the-day connection with my girls

What does a bathtime meditation look like?  Here are three ideas to get you started:

1. Prayer
As I bathe each daughter, I might say a simple prayer like, “Thank you, God, for these sweet little feet.  May they carry her to exciting places to do life-changing things someday,” or “What a blessing this chubby cheeks are to me.  May her smile be an encouragement to everyone she encounters.”

Even if you aren’t a participant in organized religion, you might think of ways to speak positive thoughts over your children as you spend a few mindful minutes bathing them.

2. Gratitude
Whether your child is six weeks or six years old, I think it is important to model gratitude.  You might say something like, “I’m so thankful we got to go to the library today!  We have so many new books to read!” or “I am so thankful for the visit from Grandma and Grandpa.  They love you so much.”

As your children get older, encourage them to offer their own words of gratitude and appreciate for the day.  The things my four year old comes up with to be thankful for always bring a smile to me.

3. Affirmation
This is particularly important to me at the end of the of a day that has been filled with more tears than giggles and more correction than encouragement.  My oldest daughter when through a phase where one hundred was absolutely the biggest thing she could imagine, so I might say something like, “You know, I love you ONE HUNDRED!”  Or I might tell my toddler, “Even if you marked on every wall in every house on every street, I would still love you so very, very much.”

Sometimes we get silly and say things like, “I’d love you even if your elbows looked like your knees and you had horsey breath!” and “If your hair looked like a rainbow and your nose looked like a blueberry, you’d be my most favorite rainbow-haired, blueberry-nosed person in the whole world!”

Now certainly, there are evenings when I really do just lose myself in the glossy, perfectly put-together pages of Martha Stewart Living or enjoy a few precious minutes with pen and paper and no one trying to grab them from my hands.  And yet some evenings, it really works for me to turn the time spent kneeling beside the tub into a mindful, intentional, reflective celebration of my daughters and our day.

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photo courtesy of Ernst Moeksis