Sunday, August 14, 2011

Letting Kids Be Kids

This past week has been filled with fun and adventure for us here in Vermont and we've made so many memories that I'll cherish forever.  We've done lots of playing outside, lots of baking, and lots of visiting with family.  Lilah and Grady have a new favorite game to play when we go out, and if I didn't already have Lilah's Halloween costume, this game would have inspired the perfect costumes for them this year: The Three Little Pigs.  It's always been one of Lilah's favorite stories, and she has come up with a way to act it out with Grady and me when we play in the backyard.  They run from tree to tree, with each one being a different kind of house - the maple is the house of sticks, the apple tree is the house of straw, and the walnut is the house of bricks.  I, of course, am the Big Bad Wolf who has to chase them and huff and puff to blow the houses down.  But Grady likes to be the Big Bad Wolf too, so sometimes he crosses over to the dark side and chases his sister and huffs and puffs with me.

It's heartwarming to watch my children play together and use their imaginations.  It takes me back to when I was growing up, running around on the farm with my brother and sister and cousins and neighbors, making up stories for us all to act out.  A cornfield could be a castle, a tree could be a pirate hideaway, or a hay barn could be the setting for our many games of 'house'.  We made milkweed crowns, picked daisies and Indian paintbrushes for bridal bouquets, and an old wooden fence was as good as a white horse to ride away on.  Our parents let us create our own worlds, and imagination was the very best tool in our toy box. 

All too often parents, myself included, get caught up in the glitz and excitement of the wide array of toys that do things, and we forget that really the simplest of objects can spark our children's minds in ways that all the electronic gadgets in the world cannot.  Sure, it's nice to have a little pink 'laptop' for Lilah to play with that helps her learn her letters and numbers, but it's no substitute for me sitting down with her and a piece of paper and a marker to teach her myself.  I try to play with and interact with my kids as much as possible, but I'm no superwoman.  And I'm finding that now that Grady is talking more and enjoying pretend play, that they are more likely to come up with their own entertainment with each other.  I am very much a person who likes to have a hand in whatever is going on, but I'm working on taking a step back and letting them just do their thing.  "Child-led play" is a big buzzword in early childhood education, and it makes so much sense.  Of course they need direction and discipline, but they are perfectly capable of deciding what they like to do during the day.  Sometimes that means an entire day of coloring and drawing, sometimes that means a lot of pretend play, and sometimes that means a lot of sitting on the couch and reading books.  Most days it's a combination of those things, and then some.

It's hard for me to let go of the reins sometimes, especially because I have always been a very routine person and I like a structured day.  Maybe it comes from working in a day care, but I have to have a 'schedule' for our days or I think I would go crazy.  That being said, I've been trying to relax about the routine a little bit while we are here visiting and go with the flow more.  The kids still need their naps and a decent bedtime, but I've been able to work around our normal schedule a little bit so that they can take full advantage of the opportunity to visit with family and just play outdoors as much as possible.  So after naps today, instead of doing our normal afternoon thing and playing together here at the house before dinner, we took a little trip to Miss Charlene's to see the horses, Cocoa and Pepper.  Lilah was hesitant to get on, but Grady was all about jumping up in the saddle on little Cocoa! 

He looks like he was born to ride!

Sitting on the tractor was more Lilah's speed.

She loved patting Cocoa, but was "a bit shy" about riding her.

I'm so glad that I took a step out of my own way and just went for it today.  It may seem small, just going for a short visit to a nearby friend's for the afternoon, but it's a big deal for me.  As my children grow and learn, I'm finding that I'm doing just as much growing and learning myself. 

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