A Summer to Remember
“Mom, why are we out here?” I heard this question many times while driving my kids to our local state park one summer. As I evaded their questions, we arrived at an open, quiet meadow. Everyone sat on the grass and took a few deep breaths together. I asked them to close their eyes and listen… “What do you hear?” We then made the meadow our “home base” and I invited them to adventure out, anywhere they felt drawn to within sight and sound of me. While the two youngest jumped up and began exploring right away, the oldest two, just out of school, looked at me blankly, waiting for more direction. Seeing this, I vowed to have a summer filled with discovery, free exploration, and open-ended fun. And we did. I have pictures of them examining insect markings on tree trunks, racing leaves and flowers down the stream, and laughing as they watched squirrels chasing each other in the trees. On each return trip I would see bright eyes and hear voices full of wonder about the beauty of their surroundings. I watched in awe as their thinking became more active and independent. That summer they practiced essential skills we want for all young children. This summer is a great opportunity to offer similar experiences for the children in your life.
Often this type of learning is pushed aside by well-intended chore charts, summer worksheets, and jam-packed schedules full of sports, music lessons, day-camps, and other adult-led activities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, my concern is that in our quest to be “good” parents and educators, we are actually depriving our children of the most important parts of childhood. It is helpful for all of us to remember what children need most for success. Science tells us that relationships with others and opportunities for discovery are vital.
According to Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little, “It’s really very simple: young children need to know and to be known.” They need opportunities for “meandering conversations with people they like” in order to exercise their deductive muscles and strengthen their higher-level thinking.
We can offer children time and space to explore the world they live in without an agenda or time-table. “We can then notice and remember the remarkable point of view of a young child and the important work of childhood.” (Deb Curtis and Margie Carter, The Art of Awareness) This important work originates with curiosity- children’s inner desire to make sense of the world around them and understand their place in it. This happens when we see children as capable and trust that their interests and curiosities are just where their attention should be.
As we strengthen our relationships with young children and offer them our presence during moments of free exploration, we give them a gift that not only makes that moment special, but influences the person they will become. Although we may have a cute Pinterest inspired chore chart ready to go, a soccer camp planned, and time set aside to work on school “summer packets”, let's also be sure to include connecting with children on the list. When we allow ourselves to slow down and make celebrating childhood a priority, we will also be giving ourselves a special gift, a magical summer to remember.