I've discovered a lot in these last few years taking my kids outside almost every day. Of course there have been missteps and challenges, but there are three words that have infinitely improved our time in nature together. Armed with knowledge from some incredible educators, caretakers and instincts of my own, I've moved towards a parenting/educating style based on child-led exploration, play-based learning and quality time spent in nature.
And it was in that spirit that I first uttered these three simple little words - I'll follow you. Here's why this phrase works:
It Empowers Them
I control so much of my daughters' day - eating, dressing, sleeping. Yes, I try to be as collaborative as possible, but there are definitely times when I have to lay out specific rules. So, the first time I said, "I'll follow you," she honestly didn't know what to do. It can be overwhelming for a toddler to suddenly have that much autonomy, but with a little encouragement she started to lead the way.
Now heading out ahead is almost second nature for her. I love that she doesn't look up expectedly at me for direction. I love that she strikes out boldly and yells behind her, "Watch out for the pricklies!". Most of all, I love the confidence, determination and quiet knowing taking root in her heart.
It Humbles Me
On that first trip out, the deeper my daughter led us into the woods, the more it humbled me. She could go farther than I ever imagined. She had a destination in mind. It's not really our fault that we naturally fall into a pattern of dictating to our children. They do need strong guides, and we're just trying to find our equilibrium after a day spent negotiating that tight rope between fear and freedom.
But, real strength is also about letting go. And I'm not talking about allowing them to run feral in the wild (I'm a hummingbird parent myself - more on that later), but instead recognizing that perfect amount of space our children require to come into their own knowledge and power. Parenting on the ever-changing edge of her development is an art I'm still learning.
It Restores Balance
Until my daughter started leading, I didn't realize how much I had been influencing her rhythms. Now when she stays close to home, I know she is having a quiet, more internal day. When she heads off towards the woods, it's time for an adventure! This was a big lesson for me. She doesn't always want to go to the forest or to the creek (of course I do!). She doesn't always want to go on the swing set. Sometimes she plays by the house for awhile and then ventures further later. Sometimes she doesn't want to stay out for that long, and I try to respect that too.
Yes, it's important that we explore and spend a good stretch of time outside, but now I'm much more aware that my children are developing their own unique rhythm and relationship with nature.
Thanks so much for reading, I would love to hear what is working for you and your family!
Your Woman Gone Wild,