When my daughter was young, I often told her I was surprised that I’d lived so many years without her advice. I really did know how to cook, drive, plant a garden, or whatever I was doing that she would offer her instructions on how to do it better or, at least, right.
I recently spent several days with my grandchildren exploring, storytelling, walking in the woods, playing, and watching their favorite movies. Every activity was laced with their advice direction, and instructions just as my daughter did when she was their age. This time I watched, listened, learned and was reminded of the poignant beauty of innocent childhood.
My first career was teaching preschool children. I have fond memories of what I learned from them. My daughter years later, reminded me of how to be in the world. This week, at the perfect time, I was reminded yet again of how to truly be in the world. I witnessed the way they approach life, build courage, and express their natural resourcefulness.
Now back home, I am filled with their fresh innocence as they learn to face life head on with fierce and fearless determination. I reflect on my time with them with a smile on my face and in my heart. I also ponder a question, when and why do we (as adults) lose the presence and fearlessness in life?
Here is some of what I learned and was reminded of:
- Word Quotas: I am certain we wake each day with a word quota that must be used by the time we tuck into bed. Children use up their word quota through storytelling, lengthy strings of thought, words, and fragments of thoughts whether or not they make sense. Brother and sister would walk along both talking (at the same time) without interruption in order to use up their work quota for the day.
2. Food is Life: Ok, most kids have strong opinions about what they will or won’t eat, what color plate is needed for any particular meal, and a clear opinion about how the food must be arranged on said plate. Snacks are an ongoing part of the day. In fact, any time of the day is perfect for a snack. 6 am? perfect! After a meal? of course! After a walk? Definitely! Just because? What a great time for a snack! They snacked on fruit, rice cakes, chips, or whatever is within reach on their snack shelf. They are always hungry. Food is life, isn’t it?
3. Life is play: Laughter, tears, a variety of voices & names, and an abundance of stuffed animals, action figures, cars, paper, and even the dogs are essential props in creative play. I witnessed hours of role playing. They were acting out different scenarios and responses they’d experienced in real life interactions. I was listening to them replay events with different responses and solutions to ‘real’ situations. I believe all this role playing was a way to integrate their experiences and practice possible resolutions and responses for next time.
4. Letting Go & Moving On: Pitch a disproportionate fit to a situation. Every so often a burst ofI screaming, crying, throwing, kicking, or flinging themselves to the floor emerged. When this happened, I learned it best to let it go and run its course unless there was injury. Within minutes, the drama would end and he/she would return to play as if nothing had just happened. The dramatic tantrum and the reason they were acting out allowed them to let it go and move on. Brilliant!
5. The Outdoors is an Important Classroom: We went out for a walk in a snow storm and another walk the next day, mostly in mud. We went to experience the wildlife and be out in the delight of fresh snow. Walking with children is a slow wandering as I follow their lead. They look for birds, squirrels, fox, and deer. During the storm, we saw ducks, geese, and a fox. We also noticed animal tracks in the snow before us. My heart swells watching them love the outdoors. On our next walk, we saw a bald eagle, a hawk, geese, and the eagle’s nest.
6. How to be Out in Nature: I love Forest Therapy (Shinrin Yoku) and I have learned much from my grandchildren beyond the slow wandering. Walking through the mud is an exercise in balance and much more fun than walking around the mud. Jumping in puddles creates an exciting splash. What fun is missed by keeping your shoes dry and walking around the puddle? As you walk, look down, look up, and look in wonder at what nature has to offer. Nature is truly an abundant learning environment.
7. Curiosity, A Growth Necessity: Nearly everything children do is approached with curiosity. Through their curious wanderings outside, their curious explorations in play, and even with how to eat a meal, curiosity is a foundation for childhood. It is how we learn about what we like and don’t like. It is also how we learn about who we are in every situation. Curiosity maintains a sense of wonder in any activity.
8. Be Fearless: Climb trees, jump off the top step, play in every patch of snow or dirt, make fishing rods and bows out of branches and string. When you fall down, get back up with determination and try again. We learned to walk, run, and ride a bike by being fearless. Safety is for the adults in attendance, however, don’t hover.
9. Yes, I Hear You But…: Listening is selective. Yes, I hear you telling me to slow down or be careful or lower the volume, kind of… I realized that it wasn’t that they didn’t hear, it was that their forward energy was already in motion. Sometimes we keep going when there is wisdom in slowing down or stopping. We’re already in motion in thought. I watched, in real time, how every creation and action begins with a thought.
I am already planning my next visit for what I might learn! Life is our classroom and children show us what we, as adults, have forgotten. Being with children, I experience life with more presence, fun, engagement, and curiosity. They are wonderful teachers & guides for living with humor, courage, and noticing.