Slowing Down for Our Children | Southern Indiana and Louisville Family Photographer

So here's a fun fact that you may not know about me... I'm more than just a photographer!  :)   What many people probably don't know about me is that I taught in the public schools for about six years before deciding to take a little break from it.  After leaving the public schools, I began teaching Early Childhood courses at Ivy Tech Community College and continue to do so, which I love with all my heart.  It wasn't until I had my son two years ago, though, that early childhood learning and development became a huge passion of mine.  

I could go on and on about how incredibly important the first few years of life are for a child... They are constantly taking in the world around them, making connections in their brain and learning at tremendous speeds.  They are developing trust and a sense of security with their caregivers and their environment, which builds the foundation for their entire life.  As they interact with those around them and their surroundings, they come to learn about life and develop their ideas about the world they are living in.  It's such a critical stage in a child's life, and one that we can either enhance or diminish through our presence, guidance, and lifestyles that we lead.  

My students and I read a lot of really great early childhood articles in the courses that I teach, and the other day it hit me - if I benefit as a teacher and parent from reading these articles, then so many of my parent friends and others in my "social" community could as well!  So I may just share some articles from time to time, with this one being the first. 

The article I am sharing is all about the importance of self-directed play for children.  When children are engaged in this type of play, us adults may look at them and think, "What are they doing?"  At quick glance we may not realize they are in the process of deep, meaningful learning. The article shares a quick story about a little boy outside, playing with a stick and rocks in the mud.  Now, many of us mommas may look and say, "Stop that, you're going to get filthy!"  But if we pause and choose to observe, what we would actually see is that our child is engaged in the act of curiosity, wonder, exploration and inquiry.  His or her little brain is pondering and questioning and they are learning through science, although it may not look like it to us.  This self-directed play is SO important for young children to engage in, but so many children don't have the opportunity to do so as often as needed.  

The article goes on to share that the man, possibly the father, is asking the child "What are you doing?   Let's go!"  And the little boy puts down his sticks and rock and walks away.  (Which makes my heart hurt.)  First, let's address that as parents many times there are places we need to be and errands we have to run.  Oftentimes we don't have a lot of time to slow down and let our children explore in the mud and sticks when we are on a time schedule, and that is okay and totally understandable.  I get it, and I'll be the first to admit that often I find myself rushing my little boy along while he's engaged in meaningful play because we have errands we have to run or responsibilities that must be managed.  But, how many times do we, as parents, choose the busy, rushed lifestyle when we don't have to?  When we have a choice between filling our days to the brim with activities that aren't necessary or staying at home, playing outside or at the park, enjoying a day of slow living so that our kids can just be kids and engage in this type of play.  It can be hard to choose slow over busy, especially if you aren't used to it.  If you're like me, you may not be able to sit still for very long.  So many times I sit down to play with my son and after a few minutes the little voice in my head is telling me, "You need to fold laundry" or "Those dishes really need to be put away."  Or I'll take my son outside to play, and after a few minutes boredom begins to sink in for me so I'm ready to change it up and move on to the next activity.  I mean, my son has to be bored if I am, right?  Nope.  My son is perfectly content with getting in and out of his play car, pushing his lawn mower around the yard and picking up and playing with sticks... Over, and over, and over.  That's when I need to stop and tell myself, "Kelly - chill out.  Slow down. Sit and observe. Watch your son learn.  Go ask him questions.  Model your own curiosity so that he can learn how to do it himself.  Throw rocks, dig in the dirt, run around the yard and kick ball.  Because THIS is where the real learning happens.  This is where he has the freedom to wonder, to explore, to get dirty and be a kid."  Yes, technology and all the fun toys and gadgets are wonderful and serve a great purpose in learning... But nothing teaches problem solving and critical thinking in young children quite like giving them the freedom to lead their own learning (with your guidance, of course).  

So I'll end here with the gentle reminder that yes, life as a parent is busy, tough, and exhausting.  It's such hard work.  We feel like we constantly need to create or provide our children with all these amazing experiences, things to play with, places to go and people to see.  But ya know, sometimes I think we are too hard on ourselves and set the expectations too high.  Some of my greatest childhood memories are of riding my bike around the yard, catching frogs, exploring the woods and helping my parents build bonfires (yes, I was a tomboy!)  Our children don't need grand experiences to create meaningful memories, and they sure don't need the most expensive learning toys and gadgets out there to engage in quality learning - the most meaningful learning comes when they can lead (as long as they are safe and supervised, of course). When they can be kids, when they can question and experiment and try things on their own and when they are given the time to do so.  And ya know, that may just look like playing with sticks in the yard or with old cardboard boxes and cooking spatulas in the kitchen... Parents, let's be kind to ourselves and give ourselves a break. It's time to realize that the carefree, simple childhood we had growing up is just as wonderful and meaningful for our own children.  It's okay to slow down, to live a bit more simply and allow our children the opportunity and time to just be kids.  

If you have time, I highly suggest reading this very quick, easy-to-read article!  Learning through play can and will look different for every child.  How does your child love to learn?  How can you further support this type of play and help engage them in it more often?  Just some food for thought.  :)  I know my personal goal is to slow down, so I'll sure be thinking about this quite a bit!