Whether you are an educator or a parent, trust is an essential ingredient in supporting children to become independent, capable beings. I know we all trust our children, but do we trust them. Trust for me means having faith in a child’s ability to assess risks, learn from their mistakes and providing them with time to figure it out on their own, whatever ‘it’ may be. While I am not condoning you ignore the children and stand around, gossiping engaged in adult conversation. I am suggesting you unravel the bubble wrap we have so tightly bandaged around our children. I am advocating for the children to have a voice and a chance to develop their own ideas and to practice skills to become independent without adult instruction. A chance to experience a grazed knee, to put their clothes on inside out and back the front or to pour too much milk into a cup. Of course you will be there to support them, encourage them and converse with them but don’t be tempted to do it for them.
We quite often quickly step in and complete tasks for children, unknowingly taking away opportunities they would have to build on their skills and to learn. Trust and independence is closely intertwined within the concept of time. Time? I hear you say, We don’t have any of that! In our fast paced world, today’s society has overlooked the value of time and replaced it with easier more convenient choices both at home and in early childhood settings. Don’t have time to wait for your child to tie their shoelaces in the morning? Solution- Velcro or do it for them. Don’t have time to clean up possible spilt milk? Solution- pour it yourself. Over tired from over working? Solution- give the kids an iPad for a moments peace. Don’t have time to wait for a child? Solution- lift them up and carry them. As a parent of three children myself, I understand the pressures and stretch between working fulltime, being a fulltime parent and the temptation of convenient options. As an early childhood teacher, I understand the value of trusting children and promoting independence and that patience is an essential. Want to know where to find extra time in your day and relieve some of that stress? Trust the children. Trust their capabilities and ability to reflect. Trust that with practice, overtime they will master new skills and become confident independent beings. Trust them to learn from mistakes. Trust them to try new things, to walk in front of you instead of beside you, to walk home from school, to ride their bike on the street, and trust them to play outside.
Speaking of which, why don’t we trust our children to play outside? On the street? In our own neighbourhoods? We have chosen to live there, so why not really live there. I often wonder if society is living in fear of what may never be. “Don’t let your children play outside, they might get kidnapped”. They might not either. They might have an amazing time, fun even. Years ago children used to play outside, on the street. It wasn’t even that long ago, I did it. How could we forget our own experiences? Perhaps it is because houses are getting bigger and backyards are smaller or non existent. Houses used to be smaller. If you wanted space you went outside. It seems the combination of limited outdoor play space, time and fear has led us to hide away indoors protected from would be predators that apparently lurk at our letter boxes.
Why don’t educators trust children in Early childhood settings? Can’t have a campfire, they might get burnt. Can’t climb a tree, they might fall. Can’t play in mud, they might get dirty. Can’t go on excursions, they might run amuck. Can’t can’t can’t. Might might might. Might not either. This negative conclusion before the children are even given the chance to succeed has set them up to fail before they even start.
I fear for future generations that are unaware of the potential outdoor nature play has to offer. How they will only ever view a stick as being part of a tree not as a wand, a sword, fire kindling or part of a teepee. Technology has not only taken over day to day interactions, it has taken over children’s minds and ability to think and imagine.
Children are naturally creative imaginative beings, unstructured time allows them to unlock their own ideas and become confident. When children play outside, on the street and in the trees, they are not only developing a sense of community, trusting themselves and each other, they are developing respect and care for their natural world. They are provided with time to practice skills and to figure it all out. They have become inventors, creators, failures and successors. They have probably been pirates and fairies too.
So how do we solve this mystery of mistrust? We stop, take a breath and ask ourselves why we allow our fears to win. We start trusting and discover time. We let the children lead the way and see the places they will go. I dare you to unwrap that bubble wrap- it doesn’t matter if you don’t though, chances are it will pop when they climb the first tree anyway.