Any parent will testify that kids are curious. Children explore, question, inquire, and experiment with what they see and feel, what is said and not said, what they can do and cannot do, especially when they play.
As a child growing up on a rural farm, my parents gave my siblings and me many opportunities for unstructured play. Without direct supervision, my siblings and I spent many days and evenings splashing around in a nearby stream with homemade boats made out of sticks, or exploring the woods around our house for whatever interesting animals we could find, making up games on the lawn late at night around a bonfire with our friends, or trying to build the perfect snow fort. All of us have our stories of the games we played as a kid, or the things we discovered. Yet without even knowing it, we were doing far more than just playing; we were learning and developing. I learned that snow packs the best when it is wet, or that a freshly tilled field can hide an old stone arrowhead. I was free to use my critical thinking skills to figure out how to cross a stream without getting wet, able to find inspirations for my artistic side by watching the leaves fall during autumn. As I played with others, I learned many of the unspoken rules about interacting with others. Playing helped me to relax and helped to balance my emotions.
In a book titled Free to Learn, Dr. Peter Grey states, “Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends”. These lifelong skills are extremely valuable to us, and allow us to become more successful teenagers and adults. Unfortunately, as we get older, we play less. We stop making up new rules, and surround ourselves with the familiar and the routine. Learning can get harder as we get older, and what was once a game now seems like a forced exercise.
So I urge you: Let your child play. Let them explore their surroundings, and play a game by their rules. Watch them examine an insect, or experiment with different ways to build a snowman. Sometimes their choices may make you feel you are raising a mad scientist. Sometimes their “discoveries” involve a lot of cleaning up afterwards. But at some point, your child will show you or say to you something that will surprise you and make you wonder how you are raising such a smart kid. And, who knows, you may even learn something too!
About the Author
Zech Mientkiewicz is a Physical Education and Health teacher in Central NY. He loves to hike, camp, exercise, and explore especially with his wife Brianna. During college, Zech led high school students on 10 day hiking trips in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. He grew up in rural Houghton, NY with his parents and 3 older siblings where they sparked his passion for wilderness adventure and teaching.