As parents and early childhood professionals we have high expectations for ourselves. We want to provide the children we care for rich opportunities to develop their skills and create lasting memories. I wonder though, if our own expectations sometimes hinder our ability to see the real learning happening in moments that we may not expect.
This past weekend our family had big plans. Our three-year-old son woke up asking every morning, “Is it camping and fishing day yet?” I’d reply with how many more sleeps until the big day. He was anticipating our exciting weekend trying out our new camper. Honestly, I was too! We’d camp by the water, have a fire and s’mores, fish on my family’s boat, and of course make so many fantastic memories. Unfortunately, Wyoming spring weather had different plans.
The day came for us to head out and it was snowing at our destination. I began to feel the anxiety of my ruined expectations creep in. I thought to myself, “How will I explain this to the boys? They will be so upset!” We quickly hatched a new plan in an effort to avoid tears and still have a fun weekend. We’d take our camper to my parent’s house and camp in their field. We’d try fishing if the weather broke long enough. I took a deep breath and explained to my preschooler the new plan. I was shocked at his response. “Ok, mommy! That sounds fun!”
When we arrived at my parent’s house, he excitedly showed his grandparents and great grandparents where he would be sleeping for the night, and then zoomed outside to the sandbox where he played until lunch. We braved the wind and tried fishing at a pond up the road. He and his brother investigated the shore line and talked with their family. When someone hooked a fish they excitedly called the boys over to reel it in.
That evening our family went to our camper, had a treat, and settled in for bed. Our preschooler eagerly jumped into his bunk and told me how cozy his “nest” was. Seconds later he clicked on the light in his bunk and peaked out at us. His face said it all. He was grinning ear to ear, told us goodnight one more time, and fell asleep.
The next day we woke up to cool and windy weather again, but we decided to take the boat out anyway. We fished, snacked, laughed, and didn’t catch a single thing. I kept waiting for the disappointment and tears, but they never came.
As we drove home, I reflected on our weekend. Nothing went as planned. So, why did our boys have the time of their life? Then, it hit me. I was waiting for disappointment because of the expectations I had created. My boys still got to do all of the things we had talked about. We camped, we fished, and most importantly, they got to be with all of the people that loved them most.
What matters to children is the experiences they have and who they have them with. My boys were surrounded with people they knew were going generate fun. People that they had secure, trusting relationships with. People that gave them undivided attention, showed interest in what they were doing, and were in every moment with them. What we did and who we did it with were what my children were anticipating. Not the bigger lake or the better views.
Children’s expectations are often very different from the ones we create for them. They want to be seen, valued, and invested in. Children appreciate beautiful things and exciting adventures just like we do, but they appreciate their relationships with the people that care for and educate them more. Whether we have fancy new toys or materials, or just use every day things found at home; whether we camp on a beautiful lake or just snuggle up in the back yard, children find the beauty and adventure in every moment. That’s where the learning and magic happen.
Next time you are worried about creating the most amazing learning activity, or you are stressed by the fact that you don’t have the newest toys and materials, remember, YOU are the most important factor in children’s learning! We meet a child’s greatest expectations when we simply choose spend a special moment together.
Northwest Region Professional Learning Facilitator