“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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Morning activities: start the day with play!

The following post is by contributor Amy Anderson of Let’s Explore.

What’s the mood like in your house in the morning? My girls happen to wake up early most days, ready to go. I, however, am not nearly as perky as they are. I’m not big on plopping kids in front of the TV first thing in the morning (at least not every day), so I needed an alternative for my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed girls.

When my girls were preschool age, I started setting out an art, exploration, or play activity at night before I went to bed. I chose very simple activities that the girls could play with independently, often using toys that had been tucked away or art supplies we hadn’t used in a while. The set-up time was always under 5 minutes.

When we got up in the morning, the girls could jump right in and start playing. They were always so thrilled by the surprise of seeing a project first thing in the morning – even if it was just a bin of Legos spread out on the table or a stack of forgotten coloring books and new crayons. I could sit with them, have some morning conversation, and wake up over a cup of tea or coffee.

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Connecting at the Playground

playground

Late last week, I took the girls to a playground at a park near our house. The evening weather was lovely and many families in our community found the pull of the playground to be irresistible.

Not long after we arrived, a woman brought two little girls who looked to be her granddaughters in through the playground gate. The woman settled in at a picnic table and continued on with a phone conversation via the ear piece nestled in her ear. This caused some manner of confusion for the little girls as they played nearby. From time to time, they would ask one another, “What? What did she say? Oh, she’s still on the phone. Okay.”

Not only have I observed this situation at nearly every play space (both indoor and outdoor) I’ve been to in the past four years, I’ve engaged in it myself. The playground offers a brief respite from the consuming work of raising children. On the comfy benches that encircle shopping mall playgrounds, moms and dads and grandparents and nannies read books and chat on the phone. Around the playscape at the park, the grown-ups pop open laptops or plug into their iPods.

I’ve done this very thing so many times myself. As a home manager, I’ve come to rely on the power of multitasking to get accomplished what needs to be done. We grown-ups, we are all very busy, and a trip to the playground usually means that somewhere, something has been left undone. If we can access those minutes on the sidelines of a playscape to return a few calls or get a few pages of the book club selection read, then the sacrifice of time doesn’t feel quite so burdensome.

And sometimes it isn’t about getting anything done at all. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite. After a long day of answering questions (“Mom, would an otter bite me?”) and cleaning marks off of the wall left behind by a marker unearthed from the mystery treasure trove only my toddler knows the whereabouts of, I just need a little time and space to zone out while my girls burn through some of the endless supply of energy
that propels them through each day.

At our last trip to the playground, as I observed the grandmother on the phone and the granddaughters at play, I began to think about all I miss out on when I put up invisible “do not disturb” signs around myself once we enter the playground gates:

Connecting with my children. I don’t know about your children, but my girls find it absolutely thrilling when I pull them into my lap so we can swing together or when I climb to the top of the ladder and go down the slide with them. Playing with a child at a playground delights the child because the adult has agreed to meet them in their world. It’s a beautiful validation for that little one that the experience of play is worth mommy mussing up her hair and her shoes a bit to share with her.

Connecting with other parents and caregivers. Parenting can be a lonely, isolating gig. I wonder how many new friendships I’ve missed out on because I was sending out very overt “closed” vibes. Sometimes a shared laugh over the antics of kids at play can be enough for two grown-ups to remember what we try to teach our children – that making friends isn’t really all that hard if you are willing to try.

Connecting with the other children at play.  The older of the two granddaughters at the playground the other night spotted me playing with my girls near the slide. She confided in me that they had just moved to our town a few days before and that the job their Daddy was supposed to get had suddenly fallen through. She had just finished first grade but the weight of the world was on her shoulders. I thought about how each of the children playing there that night had a story – some happy, and some not so happy. In a culture that makes it easy for adults to be increasingly disconnected from the children in their care, many children are craving the attention from someone who will listen for just a minute.

Please know that I am not insisting that every trip to the playground must be one of constant, alert, fully-present awareness. Sometimes we all need some space and some room to breathe. Sometimes we simply have to use those pockets of time that life hands us to take care of business. 

But perhaps every other playground outing or so, you might turn off your phone, cram yourself into that swing, and see if you can’t swing high enough to kick the sky. You might smell like a puppy who has been rolling in the grass by the time you head home, but I bet you’ll have exercised a little, laughed a lot, and maybe even made a friend or two.

Photo by are you my rik?

Rainy Days: The Indoor Safari

rainydayWe are having an extraordinarily wet spring where we live, and I’ve had to reach deep into my bag of Mommy Tricks to find ways to pass the rainy days.  A few weeks ago, my preschooler came up with an easy and fun game that we have discovered has many variations: the indoor safari.

Her original idea was to go on a “bug safari” inside our house.  We got out a bag of insect foamie stickers and each of us hid them all throughout the house.  Since our shovels and pails were suffering from inattention due to many days in a row of not being allowed outside, we decided they would be perfect for gathering the bugs we found on our safari.

Everything is a race these days for my four year old, so we counted backward from ten and set off to try to gather as many bugs as we could find.  I enlisted the help of my toddler for my team, and she was thrilled to add bugs to our bucket.  (Even more fun for her was taking them out to re-hide them!)  Once all the bugs were collected, we met in the living room, dumped the contents of our pails onto the floor, and admired our finds.

First we played with numbers by counting how many bugs each of us had captured.  Then we enjoyed some categorization by sorting the bugs into piles of same colors and then into piles of same creatures.  When we finished that part of the safari, both girls had fun placing some of their bugs onto pieces of construction paper to display the results of the morning’s safari.

This is a fun activity that can take lots of different directions.  You could

  • find exotic creatures online, print and color the pictures, and cut them out and go on safari to find them
  • hide stuffed animals from your child’s collection and search them out.  Older kids might like to classify them by the continent they live on or by what kind of ecosystem they call home
  • cover animals with blankets in one room and let babies play peek-a-boo as a safari alternative for your littlest ones

Okay, moms and dads of Simple Kids – let’s hear from you!  What is your favorite rainy day play?  Please share your idea here and you may find it featured in an upcoming edition of our Rainy Days series!

Photo by Flora

Let Go, And Go With It

bouquet

One of the most powerful, inspiring, and helpful books I’ve read in the past year is Amanda Blake Soule’s the creative family.  Chock-full of ideas and brimming with beauty and delight, it has become a sort of guide book for the way I want our family to approach creating.  We’ve got a long way to go, of course, but this book is an endless supply of inspiration.  I’m sure I’ll reference it many times here at Simple Kids.

In Chapter Seven, “Exploring Through Nature”, Amanda describes the sweet wonder of creating fairy houses with your children.  I was captivated by this magical and imaginative idea, and so Dacey and I began working on creating fairy houses last summer when she was three.  I had an idea in my mind of what I wanted the fairy house to look like, but her ideas always took a very different, definitely less constructed path.  I found I had to step back and remind myself why it was we were building fairy houses, and it wasn’t so we could be featured in a minature version of Town&Country magazine.

A few weeks ago when the weather turned warm and wildflowers began springing up in our yard, Dacey and I were enjoying some quiet play time in the backyard.  I can’t remember who it was that first suggested that we build our first fairy house of the season, but we were soon hard at work collecting our materials – sticks, handfuls of grass, the odd pinecone here and there, and lots and lots of flowers.  In no time at all, Dacey was more concerned with her wildflower harvest than with the building of a fairy house, and once again I found I had to make the mindful choice to just step back and follow her playful lead.

Eventually, Dacey decided that what “Taluah” (our resident backyard fairy) would want more than a house would be a little garden.  This meant, of course, grabbing a shovel and digging up earth.  In my grown-up mind, this was a good start on a flower garden.  What I didn’t foresee was Dacey deciding to completely bury the flowers under the mound of dirt she dug up.  In her mind, that was planting flowers and that was precisely what she intended to do for Taluah, despite my gentle protests and attempts to persuade her otherwise.

plantingflowers

After the flowers were “planted” and we had gone inside and thoughts and talk of Taluah were put away until another day, I thought about how often I want to step in and direct my daughter’s imaginative play.  Is it the dormant teacher in me awakening to see the lesson plan is not being followed?  Maybe it’s the big sister within who never really recovered from being so bossy in play.  Regardless of the reason, the urge to insist on doing things the “right way” in play is something I have to intentionally resist.

It’s just play.  It’s just for fun.  Playing is learning.

These are mantras I find myself repeating.  Hopefully one day, the stepping back and letting go will be my first response.  In my heart I know that when it comes to play, the most important rule to be heeded is to just go with it.

Am I alone in my bossy tendencies?  Anyone else have to be reminded to let go and go with the flow?  Or perhaps you can share some gentle pointers for the rest of us on how to step back and let play unfold in a wonderfully organic way.  I would love to hear your thoughts!