“I do it.”
“I got it.”
These are the words of my independent and curious almost two-year-old daughter. She is my wild child. Always with her hair and clothes a mess, ready for exploring the world around her. No fear. No worries. Instead, she is full of passion to discover something new and to challenge her body to move in new and exciting ways, with no help from Momma!
Allowing space for risky play has been a lesson that my sweet girl has forced me to learn. As a teacher in preschool classrooms, I felt comfortable with a certain amount of risk. In my estimate, they were old enough, strong enough, and “ready” for that challenge. But a 1 year old? Would I have considered letting a 12-month-old build a ramp and climb up? She did that when my back was turned for 20 seconds. Would I have considered letting an 18-month-old wield a real hammer? She demanded that I did. Would I have considered letting a 20-month-old climb to the top of a playhouse and swing from the bars? She did it with the command of “no help!” Would I have considered letting a 22-month-old hold a garter snake we discovered in our yard? (Ewe, no! Snakes are gross!) She declared, “I hold it” with no fear. Because of her determination, I have learned that what she needs is my trust. I am learning to let go of some control, and watch her conquer challenges that I feared she wasn’t “ready” for.
As parents and as educators, it is our duty to protect the children in our care. However, I wonder if we sometimes do so to the detriment of our children’s curiosity and development. In many homes and childcare programs, we see a lack of real materials and healthy risk-taking opportunities for young children. Instead of glass dishes, children are given plastic ones. Instead of open-ended materials, we opt for toys that can be used in only one way. Instead of allowing children to take risks and challenge their bodies, we tell them to “be careful, stop running, get down from there.” What would happen if we let children’s curiosities, rather than our adult fears, lead the way? What would happen if we practiced trusting, even our youngest children, to face challenges and do hard things?
In their book, Designs for Living and Learning, Deb Curtis and Margie Carter challenge us to “set up environments to take advantage of children’s passionate quest to investigate and theorize about things that provoke a sense of magic and wonder and intellectual challenges.”
In your program or your home, how can you set up an environment ready for magic, not only for preschoolers, but for infants and toddlers? What fears can you let go of, to inspire their passionate quest to investigate their world?
We can strengthen each other on our journey to say “yes” to children and support their innate need for challenge and risk-taking. We can make their courage and strength visible for the world to see! We can start a movement in Wyoming! I invite you to share your successes using the hashtags #wylearnathome (for families), and #wylearntogether (for early childhood educators). I will be sharing alongside you!