Permission to Ponder

Ponder (Pon-der);

Verb, to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate (often followed by over or upon).

If I was asked to give two words to describe myself I would choose loving and chatty. Anyone who knows me, even if briefly, would agree I am never short of a few words. I like to think of myself as a deep thinker, imaginative, expressive. I am a communicator and a philosopher. I mull over the simplest of things, ruminate excessively on life and love nothing more than a deep juicy conversation. I am also a day dreamer. I was as a child and I am still today. There was a time in my life however where I lost touch with this free-spirited character. The enchantment in life felt as though it was too often stifled by the expectation by others for me to conform. To stand in line, stop fidgeting and do as I was told. To be seen and not heard. I was to think and behave as children at that time were often expected to, quietly, in the background, only speaking when spoken to. Ever heard that old chestnut?

Children, Seen But Not Heard

As a child I heard grown-ups – and I still hear them now - utter these very words, yet at the same time we are trying to encourage children to use their imagination and tap in to their creativity. We spend years trying to get them to speak with us and explain how they feel, only to stop listening or to complain of the noise a moment later. How confused our little earthlings must be!

I was reminded regularly that my parents, teachers and other adults had tuned out or did not want to hear what I wanted to share. Tales from my overzealous imagination or simply the colourful commentary on life from the eyes of a 10-year-old. Sometimes it was just a look of inattention, or the fact that my questions went unanswered, shrugged off as nonsense, and my idle chitter chatter pushed aside as ‘talking rubbish’.

As an adult I am now finally reflecting and reconnecting with my love of creativity, through writing, sharing stories with my daughters, and living a creative life. It energises me, yet I now ponder what different choices I may have made throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, should my voice not have been squashed and my self-confidence dampened by the innocent enough yet disheartening messages I received.

Do They Really Need Your Help?

On a more physical level this leaves me to think about parents and our knee jerk reaction at times to step in and ‘help’ our children when they are in the midst of creating or building something - without first asking if they needed or wanted assistance. Quick to dictate how something should look, or correcting their tales to be more realistic. When playing out in nature our children get to ponder, examine, exercise problem solving skills, experiment with trial and error, and explore all of their senses. Through unstructured outdoor play they can connect and find respite on such a deep level with their surroundings.

I have no doubt in my mind that as a child I was an innovator, creator, and scientist. I was building forts, writing stories and planning cubbies very confidently. I was building my self-esteem, forming sense of the world, and learning through play. Experimenting, engaging with everything around me. This grew connections and information, collecting data within my internal database of memories, experiences and knowledge.

All the while this learning and thinking may have been relabelled by the grown-ups around me: ‘off with the fairies’, ‘making a mess’, or ‘forever talking nonsense’. I was told to get my head out of the clouds. Do you think J.K Rowling’s folks thought her head was in the clouds? Maybe so, but in order for a child’s creativity and sense of self within the world to flourish, perhaps we could encourage these ponderings, encourage unstructured and undirected play. Let them direct their own play and sit in stillness and wonder.

‘Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity

to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all

invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative

and revelatory capacity, it is the power to empathize with

humans whose experiences we have never shared’ – J.K Rowling

Let’s Get Out Of Their Way

Let’s face it, the most important people around us as young children, those we interact with daily, are the people who often lead and guide development. Adults hold the keys and open the gates to the outside world. They determine how little and how much time in nature children are exposed to and how much freedom they have to explore. Let’s get out of their way. No need to straighten up their bridges, correct their stories or take over their fort building because we have ‘skills’. Let them develop their own skills, and cultivate mystery and myth through their play. Give them permission to ponder. As the gatekeepers to outdoor play, open those gates wide and open them often. If you are really brave, or if your children are perhaps a little older, you can remove the gates entirely (with caution and supervision where necessary of course!).

In these formative years, let’s encourage and support their sense of wonder so that they don’t lose touch with their childish spirits. So that their very personal and very important sense of self in all its technicolour vividness is shown love and support – not indifference. Let them walk out in nature, sense it, touch it and engage with it. We all need to dream about it, make up fantastic tales about purple dragons named Julia, and believe in them both (the children and the stories).

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods so aptly says ‘It takes time – loose, unstructured dreamtime – to experience nature in a meaningful way.’

The Freedom To Find Themselves

Is it possible that through these early interests and fascinations we could be seeing the first signs of the very things that will make their souls sing as adults? I know as a child I was writing stories in preschool before some could write their names, and I had a love of nature and the great outdoors from a very young age – making potions to help heal the trees after the council cut them down. Is it a coincidence that now as an adult, after years of trying to find what I really wanted to do, the path I find myself on is writing about nature, spending my spare time volunteering in conservation, and learning about herbs, nutrition and wellbeing. Go figure.

Why would we want to disconnect any child from finding and enjoying this joy as early as possible? Finding what they love to do in life and what fills them up will only take longer and be more difficult if we as adults put barriers in the way. By taking time to slow down and observe, correct less and support more, we encourage and support their interests and their exploration of the world in all its forms (nonsense or otherwise).

As spoken so wisely by Shefali Tsabary in the book The Conscious Parent: ‘They are growing and need the space to do so, which requires you to retreat from your dominance and emerge in your kinship’.

Half the fun and the opportunities to learn and grown come from that self-driven and self- found gratification, resourcefulness, compromise and imagination. Let’s not catch ourselves saying ‘I don’t want to hear it’ when we are just too caught up in the busy-ness of life, change it up and say ‘tell me more…’ or ‘yes I would love to see your fort’.

Let Them Ponder

Let’s stoke and coax their inner fires to life and do the same for our own if they were dampened in our youth. Use these opportunities to encourage our children to ponder, to mull over, to speculate and experiment in nature and in their own minds. Let them weave tall tales and relish in the freedom and the joy of their creations.

‘Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence’ - Plato

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