Disclaimer: I won’t pretend for one moment to be an expert on children. We have one daughter and I have worked as a preschool teacher for six years and I still definitely have not seen it all. With that in mind I’ll tell you something that works pretty well for us: the great outdoors.
It seems like every day I’m bombarded with information about what I should be doing with C. This comes, for the most part, from well-meaning parents at work or church. Karate? Art? Swimming? T-ball? Preschool time at the library? What do you mean there are days you don’t leave the house during the summer? What do you do with C?
Phew. What do I do with C? Well, we read, paint, snuggle, and build. Then we bake, play outside, ride bikes, and run. C loves to exercise with me and chase the dogs around the back yard. Last summer she perfected climbing our giant mountain laurel. She helps plant potatoes, weed, and pick vegetables and fruit. We love to can and dehydrate and she’s in the thick of it. When it’s raining she’ll throw on boots and grab her umbrella and go find huge puddles. There is nothing wrong with structured activities. When C gets older I’m planning on giving her piano lessons. But not yet. She’s 4.
Some of my fondest memories growing up were taking the dog and heading out into the woods behind our house for a few hours. The only rule was that if my parents called my name I’d better come running.
So we instituted this same rule with C. She knows that she’s free to spend all afternoon stalking birds, digging holes, and climbing trees as long as she comes when we called. We always send a dog (or two!) out with her and keep an eye on them from either the window or the garden. The best thing we’ve done since buying this house was having a fence put up. It was expensive but worth the peace of mind.
Unfortunately, the amounts of toys and activities that a child has seem to be the new measure of their happiness. This morning we’re going to a birthday party for one of C’s friends. To prepare her for the inevitable present-opening envy we had the “stuff” discussion. The gist of it is this: Your friend will be opening a lot of gifts today. I know that they will look really cool and you might want them, but don’t envy his gifts. Do you need anything? Do you want anything?
She answered “no” to both of those questions. Now, whether or not she remembers her cool-headed answers in the excitement of the party remains to be seen. (She sure didn’t when she was picking out a gift for her friend and wanted one too because it is so cool and I don’t have one what do you mean it’s not my birthday??) But Bruce and I both believe that kids don’t need as much stuff as everyone thinks they do. Rather, they need time. Time outside, time to play by themselves, and time with people who love them.
In C’s world she sees all the new shiny things her friends have – backpacks, lunchboxes, Frozen gummies – and she has to struggle with being happy for her friends while at the same time being grateful for what she has. This is difficult! As an adult it’s also easy to have a pang of envy over friends’ new toys – the Xbox One, a fast car, the whirlwind trip – but we have the benefit of understand that our financial goals are more important than keeping up with the Joneses.
Gratitude is something that both Bruce and I both practice every day, and it’s no different for kids. We like to talk about what she’s thankful for each day and about how blessed she is to have all the things she has – a house, food, a family who loves her, and – yes – toys. Is the process perfect? Not by far. But I think we’re making headway. And hopefully, when all is said and done, we’ll have a raised a child who values experiences over things and understands how amazing our world truly is.