Not in the way that I forbid my kids to play outside without me or they can't take risks or get dirty.
I love to send them outside to play while I work inside and drinking coffee in silence (I keep an eye on them, but I don't let them know I'm peeking out every few minutes). They know where they are allowed to play when they are on their own and even at such young ages, they do a remarkable job of respecting those boundaries. I let them splash in the creek when it rains and I let them use gardening tools to dig in the muddy garden when it's not frozen. They wander around the tree line, bringing back "special treasures" of animal skulls, feathers, and funky shaped sticks. I am probably the most anti-antibacterial hand sanitizer person you will ever meet. (Seriously, loathe that junk.) My four year old is allowed to use a real knife in the kitchen when he's helping make dinner. My three year old is allowed to peel veggies and grate cheese. They both help around the stove, stirring pots, scrambling eggs, flipping pancakes. They each have their own pair of scissors and are free to use them whenever they want to create something. They have these freedoms and they are remarkably capable children, especially when allowed to constantly push up against the boundary of what I sometimes feel are age appropriate chores, jobs, and skills.
Where I get very over protective is with their tender little spirits.
These precious little souls, entrusted to us for only a short time, are so tender. They need freedom to play and boundaries to know they are safe. They need stories to spark their wonder, but protection from an onslaught of media. They need to be stimulated through imaginative play, but guarded from the over stimulation of mainstream American culture. They need basic, real, manipulative toys to play with for hours on end, instilling a deep belief of quality over quantity. They need protection from the over scheduling of activities that can happen so easily these days. My three year old needs basic, well made clothing to play in, not the latest fashion intended to dress her like a mini-teenager or adult, furthering the early sexualization running rampant in our culture.
I spent some time thinking about how I protect them tonight after seeing how difficult it was for Mannchen to wind down after going to an evening swim class. It's from 5:30-6:00. He usually hits the wall around 6:00 - for him "hitting the wall" means losing his ability to regulate his actions and emotions. Tonight he made it through swim class and then crashed in the middle of dinner. It was very difficult for him to wind down and settle for bedtime. I realized that we signed up for this class because it's twice a week and we would like the kids to learn to swim before summer, but at what cost? Maybe he'll adjust and do just fine after a few more lessons. Or maybe my instinct to avoid evening activities was a needed one to protect his tender little spirit. It really put into perspective where his threshold is for stimulation and how important simple is to a young child. And how vital I think it is for parents to slow down and listen to these messages their children are sending them. Every child is different - my own children are almost as different as night and day. If I continually ignore what they are communicating to us through times like this, I am robbing them of their need for slow, simple days.
And it's not that I want to shelter them forever, but right now I wish there was more widespread respect for the fact that they are not little adults. They are tender hearted, innocent little souls of only three and four years old. They aren't babies anymore, but they are still very young children. They need a slow, simple life. And I want to protect and give them this and a true childhood. Hopefully they will be blessed with many long years of adulthood, but childhood is being cut shorter and shorter for so many children. I want to bless them with ample time to play and explore while there is still wonder in their souls for several more years to come.
My hope is this will instill in them a curiosity to learn, a respect for the natural world, a love for all of mankind, and a value for the things that truly matter in life.
This is a tough issue. We are far from perfect and I am always trying to
find new ideas to help foster independence, but maintain innocence for the
time being. One of the main things I need to work on is leading by setting a
better example in my speech and actions.
What are some of the ways you help protect/foster your children's childhood?
Have you found it to be a struggle or easy to do in your community?