Spring is just around the corner and parents all over the country can’t wait to release their tightly coiled toddlers into the garden! Many, quite wisely, haven’t waited for Spring and have been throwing them out into the garden, parks and mountains all winter. After all, so long as they’re wrapped up warm, it’s definitely worth it. I know it’s the only thing that keeps some parents sane.
Parents have the choice of a) staying in doors where it’s nice and warm, kettle is in arm’s reach, fridge just below it, TV is waiting to entertain, there’s a soft, warm, dry sofa to sit on, the house is cosy but … there are three wild bipeds bursting your ear drums as they scream like mandrakes, running round your legs, between your legs, up the walls, across the ceilings, swinging from the light fittings, destroying everything in their path OR b) go out into the bracing wind, trudge waist high through mud, get side swiped by sharp tree branches you couldn’t see due to trying to turn your head away from the driving rain and hail, almost fainting with hunger and busting for a wee but … your three little cherubs are being all cute hunting for pretty leaves or animal footprints and shouting baa at the cows and moo at the horses.
As you might have gathered, we’ve been out doors all winter, but I never fail to be amazed at just how brave our little ones are. Yes, it could be argued that they’re naive or just plain stupid. But how much of a superhero do you need to be to put your face up to a 5’ cow when you’re less than 3’ tall? Imagine patting a dog that is bigger than you? Fancy swinging on a rickety piece of wood that takes you to four times your own height! Or sliding yourself off the equivalent of a small building and straight away running up to do it again!
Our devilish darlings are the ultimate action adventure heroes and we should be encouraging their wild and reckless behaviour for as long as it lasts. I’m sure all our wonderful representatives at the Winter Olympics are just big toddlers who never learnt fear as they grew up.
The beauty of taking your littlies outdoors are endless: you remain sane, they take in fresh healthy air, exercise increasing strength and stamina, build a good appetite and better absorb nutrients, feel joyful and invigorated, they sleep better, their eyesight develops better with changing from looking close up to looking over distances, their skin and hair improves due to the better blood circulation, this also develops their brains better, they develop problem solving skills and practice being brave and facing fears … the list goes on.
In fact, not only does the list go on but the benefits continue long after the outdoor session is over. I’ve sat in countless training sessions and school assemblies where it has been pointed out that many children with bad behaviour and/or poor grades are giving in to fear: fear of failure. It’s a brave person who sits a test and tries their hardest even though they know they may well fail. It would be much easier to not try then there’s no shame in failure – no proof you couldn’t do it.
So, what happens as our children grow up? When they’re toddlers, it doesn’t matter how many times they face plant when trying to walk, they just keep trying until they can do it. It doesn’t matter how many times they stick the spoonful of porridge in their eye and their ear, they just keep trying until they can do it. Why then as they reach their teenage years, do so many give up and not try?
I think I have the answer. When your toddler fell on their face did you tell them they’d just scored a pathetic 9%? Did you tell them if they didn’t succeed you’d not let them watch TV? Did you compare them to another toddler the same age who didn’t face plant half as often?
When they tried to draw a picture of a dog, did you point out that it looked more like an egg and had too many legs? Did you tell them to keep doing it again and again until they got it right?
No. What we did was ignore every fail and encourage every success. We never scored them or compared them, so they felt safe to keep trying. They didn’t understand that not succeeding meant failing. For many years, it wasn’t until Year 11 that they really felt that danger of failure, and for many of them, they’d been so positively encouraged up to that time, that it gave them strength to go on. Now, due to SATs testing we are teaching our Year 6s that they have the potential to be failures. Shockingly, our Year 2s also have that experience. The fleeting feeling of freedom, safety to explore, try and enjoy will be thoroughly stamped out of them before they turn 8 years old.
So, what can we do about it? Well I can blog on here, we can shake our heads, roll our eyes and tut, we can sign campaigns to get the government to scrap all SATs. But in the meantime, let’s get our children out in the fresh air, encourage them, love them and support them, so that they will always feel brave: as brave as a toddler no matter how old they get.
Fun ideas to encourage our ankle-biters to play out:
- Hunt for animal footprints or signs of animal homes
- Collect pretty leaves
- Build a den
- Touch insects and invertebrates
- Splash in puddles
- Roll down hills
- Make a pattern out of pretty stones
- Make a mud pie
- Play animal bingo
- Hunt for Easter eggs (can be decorated boiled eggs)
- Go Geocaching