Explore. Dream. Discover.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

Children are natural explorers and researchers.

Their innate curiosity compels them to experiment with their five senses (see, smell, touch, taste, hear) and it is through this exploration that they learn about the world in which they live. How can we possibly know how the word ‘sticky’ and its associations without real life experience of feeling/being/seeing/tasting sticky?

Exploration in action

We borrowed this kiddy-coaster from our local toy library following the recommendation of another parent that her child absolutely loved it. I can’t say that Immy loved it. She certainly enjoyed the novelty of the initial few rides on the coaster ride-on but then wandered away to other endeavours. Over the next few weeks however she kept revisiting the kiddy-coaster. She would have a few rides on the ride-on and then she would explore the coaster ramp in all manner of different ways;

  • She rolled all types of balls down it – big, little, bumpy
  • She explored the angles and inclines of the ramp with her own body – walking, marching, dancing, crawling and slithering up and down it
  • She experimented with all manner of wheeled toys – her doll’s pram, other ride-on toys, and trucks

And in each of these experiments she was learning, through trial and error and problem solving. A new dilemma would present itself– Does this toy fit on the track? How can I make it fit? Why do some toys stop part of the way along the track, not making it off the end? Where do I go/how do I get back down once I make it to the top with my pram or ride-on? How fast can I walk down this slope without tripping? Even when her attempts to problem solve failed, Immy was learning. That is the value of exploring, you always learn something!

As parents our tolerance for this type of experimentation varies greatly. Tipping a bowl of baked beans over their head, jumping in muddy puddles, practising climbing up a ladder, are all a child’s attempts to ‘know’ more about themselves in their environment but how quickly we step in and redirect our child to something (we perceive as) safer or less messy is different for every parent. What is important to remember is that our response impacts our child’s perception of the value of exploring.

Of course, I am not advocating exploration that is unsafe or even dangerous, I am just pointing out that all children have a natural curiosity for discovery and for challenging themselves to learn new things, and as parents we need to be mindful that our own fears (and here I am thinking about ‘risk’) or hang ups (read ‘dirt’ or ‘mess’) are not unnecessarily transferred to our children.

Just this morning, DH, Immy and I visited a busy playground with the divine Ms T, her partner and their two children. While Ms T and I relaxed and drank coffee, the men assumed responsibility for supervising the three excited children in the playground. At one stage I went to take DH a drink and I was interested to note that they were keeping a casual eye the children whilst chatting themselves, standing much further away from where the kids were playing than Ms T and I had stood in this very playground without the men folk just a few weeks prior. We had traipsed behind or hovered over the children with a steadying hand in case they fell or a warning word to beware of unforeseen (and most likely improbable!) dangers that might await them. Today the guys stood casually back, well beyond arms reach and their greater capacity for letting go and trusting the children’s individual capacities for knowing their own limitations was clearly evident to me.

To some extent I believe our capacity for letting children have the freedom to explore has been hindered by our busy lifestyles with so much to ‘do.’ We fill children’s lives with places to be and activities to do. We rush through each day juggling work and home life. We often find it quicker and easier to do things ourselves or tell our children what we want/need done rather than providing children the time to find out for themselves.

I think as busy, modern parents, we need to remind ourselves to;

  • Let children have more time to experiment and explore freely
  • Allow children to get dirty from time to time
  • Allow children to do it for themselves
  • Stop ourselves from always telling children the outcome we expect and let them find it for themselves
  • Appreciate a child’s imaginary play as important to their development
  • Step back an extra moment before rushing in

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  1. SquiggleMum says:

    I love watching children explore toys in unexpected ways. There's no right or wrong way to play! It's all about exploring and learning.

  2. It is great watching kids explore, Mr 1's latest is seeing all the places he can plug his computer mouse into. Highly amusing.

  3. It's so hard to remember to let them try! Even as a SAHM, I get frustrated by the messes, overwhelmed by the responsibility of giving them chances to try "everything" while still keeping them safe from "everything." I've been thinking a lot about your conversation the other day and have been trying to give my kids more chances to explore and learn, on their own terms!

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