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We’re crossing the meadow. It has rained, and in a dip in the landscape there’s a long and wide puddle, mushy with mud and dead leaves, with water enough to submerge a shoe. The puddle doesn’t extend that far on either side. A. sees the dry ground and walks to the other side. L. doesn’t move. Instead, over a good 15 minutes, L. takes up a challenge he has set for himself: to go through rather than around, to build a bridge on which to cross. He makes it harder, makes it take longer, to get to where we’re going—because that’s no longer the goal. He says to himself, “Think, think, think.” The gears are whirring so loud I can hear them!

Click on the photo below for a slideshow of the sequence of events as L. makes one attempt and another. He runs up the hill to get a heavy log, rolling and pushing it down. A. sits on the other side, patiently waiting. When L. asks for help A. runs to him back around the puddle, and the project becomes cooperative. A. contributes innovative ideas and L. incorporates them into his experiment, which, ultimately, fails. They kick the log idly. Energy expended, project concluded, frustration self-managed, they walk around the puddle and continue across the meadow. Because L. has a wet shoe and muddy pants, they start a conversation about how their families do the laundry.

But L. has made an extraordinary effort. He has pushed the limits of his imagination, and he has used his burgeoning cognitive ability to think hypothetically, to project a possible outcome. He’s also strengthening his physical muscles—and because physical efforts strengthen neural pathways, the brain and body are feeding each other’s development.

Engaged in a self-initiated, self-directed task, children’s deep desire to reach their own goal will push them farther than we might think possible. Intrinsic motivation for success with tasks they don’t want to do begins with experience pursuing things they do! To support the development of perseverance we can, as much as possible, provide children with the time and space for them to pursue whatever sparks their curiosity, the way they want to, and as long as it takes—even if there’s an easier way.

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Updated: Nov 18, 2022

It’s said that there’s no such thing as “bad” weather. Especially for children: if they’re in a rich environment for play and dressed appropriately, children can stay outside for hours. Same goes for adults—it just takes some rewiring of our conditioning! Bringing children out to play in rain, snow, and cold not only keeps their natural wiring intact; it also helps children develop critical skills that will serve them in any setting.
Rain and snow are, of course, magical to a young child. Most children thrill at the sensory experience of precipitation—they stick out their tongues for rain, they hold out their hands for snowflakes, they watch with wide eyes as rain puddles deepen and snow builds up. There’s so much pleasure to be gained from getting drenched in a warm summer downpour, jumping in puddles, and playing in the snow to the limits of their infinite imaginings.
Being out in this kind of weather isn’t always joyful; it can be totally miserable! What if, despite your caregiver's best intentions, you don’t have your gloves when the temperature drops? What if you don’t have snow pants and the wet seeps through your pants? Often peers can create the distractions and provide the scaffolding that encourages “suffering” children to power through:

Pointing up to a tree canopy that catches some of the rain, a child calls out, “We’re under the magic umbrellas!” and brings the others into the useful pretend scenario.

A child with sensory sensitivity is led by another’s enthusiasm to try immersing their hands in the rainy wet mud. Another time, a child worried about a deep puddle bravely joins one who has stepped in.

The distractions of the perfect snow for snowballs helps a child forget that their legs are wet and cold.

When the rain gets to be too much, children problem solve together to create a makeshift shelter.

Children who go through trials and tribulations with their peers may grow more than when adults step in to help; for sure, these experiences provide for lasting shared memories of overcoming challenge. Dealing with physical discomfort together inspires imagination, ingenuity, and bravery that help build the critical skills of perseverance and resilience. Being out in “bad” weather is good for a lot of things!

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Updated: Mar 15, 2023

During the worst of the pandemic, children had little to no physical interaction with their peers. Adults may be reluctant to let kids engage in physical play regardless, for fear of their child getting hurt or hurting others—which might worry us more! It’s hard to watch kids getting into it, or even just getting close, without wanting to pull them apart. Should we?
In fact, the experience of touch, both affectionate and rough, contributes significantly to children's healthy physical, social, and emotional development. High-fives, holding hands, and hugging give comfort and make a child feel like they matter in the world outside of home. Kids tickle each other, roll around, and even wrestle in ways that look dangerous to us but produce the loudest laughs and greatest joy! Playful release of aggression builds a child’s sense of their own power and strengthens their sense of their body in space; and exerting energy in a healthy way can actually make it easier for them to settle down when needed.
Kids may get hurt in the course of this physical play, giving rise to tears and anger—but for healthy development, kids need to experience it all! As they occasionally confront unfortunate consequences of physical interaction, kids learn social skills such as how to set their own boundaries as well as respect others’, how to ask for and offer consent, and how to repair relationships after conflict.
So there’s no need to wrestle with whether or not to let kids get physical! The benefits of touch outweigh the risk of bumps and bruises. And when this play is outside in nature, the benefits increase: Children get fresh air and open sky; no structures or walls get in the way or confine the play; and the forgiving earth offers gentle landings.

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