A few weeks ago, I was sent a lovely what’s app video of one of our Pjs’ toddlers helping with the vacuuming. He was engrossed in ‘getting it right’, modelling mum I suppose, but certainly gaining much pleasure out of his mastery. It reminded me of how, in some cultures this is a very natural part of play that leads to early childhood responsibilities within the family and community and raised the question of whether we really are ‘helicopter parenting’ in the Western world.
There is a growing movement to shift towards, or some would say, back to ‘free range kids’. If any readers saw Carolina Moon’s latest blog on the ‘ladies’ that she cares for, she writes: “We have a symbiotic relationship with the chickens that works both ways. They are very much part of our attempts at a natural eco-system”. My pause for thought after reading this and also attending an online webinar “The CoVid Kid – CoVid 19 and the return of the free range kid”, was is our attentiveness to our children, organising their time for them, supervising play etc. actually setting them up for later adult crises? Maybe we are supposed to let them run free, perhaps that is the ‘natural eco-system’ we need in our homes and schools, learning to let go (grounding the helicopters) and allowing our children to become their best selves at whatever age suits them.
Now I am of the generation of Brownies and Guides, looking back, the badge system encouraged us to try something different, largely on our own and my play time was usually outside with neighbours’ children unsupervised by adults (we were told to be within eyesight of the kitchen window); whereas my Dad would tell tales of an even more independent play – off out into nearby woods at first light and back around tea time. Yes he and his friends would break the occasional bone falling from a tree but this would be seen as its own ‘badge of honour’; a sign of independent learning through play.
The webinar was highlighting how Covid-19 lockdown experiences may have actually opened up a space for our children to play, really play. In other words, due to the adult constrictions of trying to work from home, or key workers covering longer hours and facing exhaustion, many children have had to ‘get on with it’. Initially this may have been in the form of “I’m bored”, but as the weeks have gone on many parents are reporting a rise in the activities and responsibilities that their children are taking on themselves.
Vicki McLeod’s article on The Psychology of Baking, highlighted examples of children discovering cooking. This implies using knives, learning about cleanliness and of course safely using a hot oven or stove top. So I wonder if you have noticed a change over the months in your willingness to play differently with your child(ren) or if by now, they have started to revel in the independence afforded to them to create their own unsupervised play?
The video link below shows how a Let Grow project in the US is developing in schools. The founders of the project argue that parents are too worried about scheduling their child’s lives. Every minute of every day seems to need occupying, and usually with adult supervision and direction. They argue that this is not healthy and provide convincing research that our children are actually being brought up in a less dangerous world re crime, than perhaps our own grandparents were. A presenter on the CoVid Kid webinar reiterated that they are seeing much more creativity through the independence afforded to children during the pandemic and that this accidental side effect could be embraced and celebrated but also overtly perpetuated post pandemic. It’s ok to arrange after school activities but they say ensure an adult is simply in the gym for safety reasons, not to lead and direct the group of children – let them discover their own mastery.
Living in Majorca, it may well be that many of our children had more opportunities to enjoy free play outside, but the lockdown forced a change in environment and it would be interesting to hear whether you have noticed a shift in balance of directed/supervised play to non-directed, non-supervised play. Peter Gray reminds us that the purpose of childhood is to become independent, they naturally want to do things on their own, he says “It’s in their bones/genes…they know”. They know….. so seeing the toddler vacuuming; children baking; they are responding to a genetic drive to try things out, to risk and fail and learn through that failure. Of course we need to protect our children, I am not advocating sending a three year old out to the shops alone; but if a reflection on our positive learning from the pandemic is that we have had time to really let our children set a tone for what they think they can do, study, play then perhaps we need to carry on noticing and ‘scaffold’ the environment to allow them to grow from their own directed play. They will develop resilience and creativity that is beyond that which we can install through too much supervision.
How free range are our children? Can we live symbiotically, whereby we celebrate the nuances of what our children bring to family and school life, benefiting both them, us as parents, our communities and ultimately changing the world for good. Do play with that thought.