We have a special tree, that is affectionately called “our tree”. It is about 5 minutes drive from our house, with great views over the fjords and of the setting sun. You can climb up into this tree, and sit inside the middle. The main branches going up from the trunk are hollow, allowing for crawling up inside and then out onto the sturdier peripheral branches. There is a very large broken branch that goes at an angle from the mid section of the tree to the ground, which is fantastic for crawling up and testing your balance. To clarify, this tree definitely fulfils one of the National Trust’s “50 things to do before you are 11 3/4; Explore inside a tree”, and certainly makes children take a risk (more about this topic later on in the post).
So, for this week’s adventure we headed off to explore inside a tree and to take a risk. First though, we needed to have a little hike, have some food to eat, and then finish up at our tree to use the remaining energy up. The fire pit I had in mind this week was on a little island. When the tide is in, it’s quite hard to cross to and keep your feet dry (you need to go from the mainland, to a little island in the middle, then from that to the fire pit island). We were lucky though, the tide was out, and the stepping stones (great adventure for the children) were raised well above the boggy squelchy mud.
Once onto our island with the fire pit, the children immediately set about testing their limits by climbing trees and running on the icy rocks (yes, it is still below zero here!). This is something I’ve had to learn to embrace, as risk taking is very good for them and for their development (less good for Mamma’s heart rate and anxiety levels!). I’ve had to learn to keep my mouth shut, and my “be careful” instincts to myself. It is not until you actually say those words, that children doubt themselves, and once said and doubt is planted in their minds, then accidents are more likely to happen as confidence slips, thinking that there is something to worry about. They are handling things perfectly fine until us grown ups interrupt!
Whilst they were all off exploring, discovering their limits, and doing a lot of risk taking, I set about getting the fire going for our tasty refuelling treat (and to warm my hands up). The little lady hopped down from her tree to help me prepare the food supplies a little too.
I love our fires when we are out, and they serve as a bit of a focal area for the children to keep returning to, in between their exploring of the surrounding nature. Reluctant to extinguish this one after our food, I put some more wood on, and sat back and enjoyed watching the trio play and discover. I love being out with them as their best games are outside and without toys. Our little lady spent ages excavating ice out of the sea, and stocking up the supply, to then systematically smash it. Either dropping it from great heights to see how it flew apart, or breaking it up with a stick “to make music” as she put it. They learn heaps in the outdoors using nature.
Then it was time to head over to our special tree. For the next hour the children climbed up, through, and over, testing both theirs and the tree’s limits. This is something that I am very passionate about, letting them test their limits. I have been pushed more towards this style of parenting since having my twin boys (since they are risk addicts), but as I’ve gone through this learning process of letting them take risks, I have learnt that this is a much better way of parenting them. We are (even if it is unintentionally) breeding a generation that will grow up unable to take a risk, and if they do take a risk, unable to manage that risk. There are a few reasons for this. There is a lot more screen time in our little people’s lives now, which consequently means less time outdoors climbing trees and swinging from home made swings. We are more afraid of the presence of stranger danger, meaning our children don’t go out without us so much. This alone has 2 impacts; they don’t get up to the antics of previous generations (so do not take a risk in their play) due to adult presence, and the adults in their lives need to be available to take them outdoors, which due to work pressures (and lets face it, needing a bit of our own down time), means they are indoors a lot more. We are also a lot more sedentary about our lives in general too, and us adults don’t always set the best example about getting out there in the outdoors and nature. Such reasons as ‘bad’ weather set the wrong example to the younger generation!
I have just finished the book by Angela Hanscom, “Balanced and Barefoot”, which has been a real eye opener. In there she explains that if children don’t take a risk (and they needn’t be drastic), their development will suffer. They need to practise assessing risk on their own, and this will in turn help them develop new essential skills. She says; “Children are natural risk takers. They need it. They crave it”. This is certainly true for our mini men, and becoming more true for our little lady. Most of children’s risks are taken during unstructured play times, uncontrolled by grown ups. Here they can learn to take those risks, as well as manage them and control them. Very useful skills to have. Angela Hanscom goes on in her book to explain how taking risks can increase their confidence and is of huge value to the child. She explains how it “also helps children develop strong physical skills that support good body awareness”. So, us grown ups need to listen to the message that she is putting across, and whilst it is scary for us parents to let them take those risks (and I really struggle to keep my mouth shut at times!), it is essential for them to be allowed to do so, and also given opportunity to do so. I think the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding our decision to pull our daughter out of formal schooling in the UK, was, after a week of wet plays indoors (which I vehemently disagree with, but that is for another time), they had a really sunny autumn day at school. When I asked her whether they had been allowed out that day at school, her response really shocked me: “No Mamma. All the leaves that have blown down in the storm made it too slippery for us to be outside”!!!! We are protecting these children so much that it is going to have a huge detrimental impact on their lives.
So my three children, having had their dose of risk taking for the day, and thoroughly worn out, did not argue when I suggested that it might be time we headed home. We love our tree, and I know we will be back many more times, and perhaps even get to paddle in those waters when they weather does eventually kick winter into touch, and warm up 🙂