Saturday, April 26, 2014

W: is for Wonder

If you stop to look at Life from birth until death, it is easy to pinpoint moments that are transformative and magical; falling in Love for the first time and the birth of your children, both come to mind.  However, in the busy, hectic pace of our everyday lives, it is easy to lose sight of the depth of our happiness during these wonderful moments.  In fact, as the statistics for divorce and family breakup bear out, forgetting what it feels like to be so happy you swear your heart will burst, is becoming all too common.  Stress now courses through of veins like poison, slowly deadening our ability to feel.

For that reason, preserving childhood for as long as possible is so very important.  If we truly love those wee ones who populate our lives, one of the most important gifts we can bestow upon them is the preservation of their childhood.  For childhood is the age of optimism and enthusiasm, innocence and wonder.  These emotions fuel our drive forward in Life, arming us with the beliefs that all is possible if only we all tried our very best, that milk and cookies really do make us happier, that holding hands when walking with a special friend really does give us a sense of belonging to something larger than ourselves, that worms are terrifically cool.  Or not.   And, aren't fireflies and butterflies the fairies of the insect world?! 

When I was a young lad, growing up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, I lived in a house that sat on a large piece of land.  We had a garage for our car at the far end of our lot and a driveway that stretched across the full length of the yard, dissecting it in half.  The driveway was completely comprised of gravel.  It was quite common for my friends and I to head for my driveway, laden down with toy cars and toy trucks, and play there for hours. We would use our hands to create roadways and homes and towns. The ants would become Godzilla-like monsters attacking us. Every now and again, we would find bits of coloured glass and declare it to be treasure.  Entire mornings and afternoons were lost to that world of imaginary play.  We always felt so lucky to have had such a world of discovery, literally, at our finger tips.

Unfortunately, many children; especially in North America, are not growing up with the same freedom to play and discover on their own terms, as I did.  Society is becoming far too busy; schedules dominate lifestyle decisions and today, for many children, there is little time to play in between all of the formal lessons, clubs and other activities they are signed up for.  In addition, most new neighbourhoods are being built with yards far too small to actively play and run around in very much.  For these children, even if they have free time, they often end up being forced to leave their homes to travel to a community park or else, they retreat indoors and into the simulated worlds of their computers.  

From the first moment that my daughters were born, I have wanted more for them that a life of scheduled events.  I wanted them to have the oppoertunities to play and dream and imagine and explore, on their own terms and in their own ways, that I had growing up.  The world is truly awesome and amazing. We don't often take time to appreciate just how lucky we all are to live on this beautiful planet of ours.  There is so much to see and do!



I am hopeful that my daughters will grow into a terrific, confident and successful young women and will lead happy, productive lives. One of the reasons I have for feeling that this may come true is how they are being raised and that is in a world of self-discovery and wonder. Leah, and her younger sister, Sophie, have both been taught from their earliest days, that the world is this awesome place! They have developed this mindset because of being read to daily, of being afforded time to linger in educational websites on the computer but, most of all, they have developed a belief in the power of wonder because they have been allowed to play.

One of Life's great truths is that most, if not all of us, learn best by doing.  If we want to become a better skater then, strap on your blades or wheels and put in the practise time. If you want to be a better dancer then, grab your partner, take a few lessons and trip the light fantastic again and again and again!  If you want to be a better writer then, sign up for challenges like the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge and get those creative juices flowing.  If you want to learn and grow and explore sides of your self that you know and many that you don't then, become actively engaged in Life. Have fun! Go and play!

My daughters have been super, super fortunate to have had a continuous array of opportunities to learn through play at home but, more specifically, at their daycare.  When Leah turned almost two years of age, our paths in Life crossed with a lady named Jackie, who has acquired Goddess-like status at our house.  We had no idea at the time of our meeting, the extent of the impact Jackie was going to have on our family and, more importantly, on our two girls.  To best understand and appreciate Jackie, I strongly urge you to check out her blog called Happy Hooligans.   This phenomenal website did not exist when Leah first came to be under Jackie's care. But, as teachers, my wife and I quickly realized what a treasure we had uncovered.  Jackie has based her entire daycare operation, as well as her website, upon the notion of children coming to understand their world through play.   Everyday, my daughters have experienced their world through a series of creative and thoroughly planned activities that involve sensory stimulation, co-operative play, imaginative role-playing, interacting directly with Nature, being physically active and, on and on it goes!  If you explore the drop-down menus on her blog, my girls have experienced every single thing Jackie has listed.   The photos below are just a mere sampling of the wonderful times my girls have had, all in the name of learning by playing.



Whether it is crafting, exploring nature in a garden, running around on the grass, swinging in a tire swing on a beautiful summer day or watching friends turn into shadows, it has all added up to a world of wonder for my two girls.

As I mentioned toward the beginning of this post, the gift we bestow upon children when we permit them to play and explore and, in essence, give full reign to their natural sense of curiosity and wonder, is invaluable.  My daughters are extraordinarily lucky to have had the daycare experience they did.   They are growing up with their sense of wonder intact.....for now.    And, it is all because of one of the simplest and most natural childhood activities of all: play!


 
I will close with this final thought:  
 
When I mentioned to Jackie that she might end up being featured in one of my education-themed posts, I asked her for one bit of advice that she would want parents to know about children learning through play. She replied, without hesitation,"Don't be afraid to let them get messy. That's why we have soap."   This brings to mind my own mother who would signal the end to my childhood driveway play by coming to the door and saying, "Time to come in for supper. Now, change your clothes and wash your hands first."  I would gather my belongings, or not, and enter the house, a dusty, dirty, grass-stained mess. I was exhausted and satisfied. I would smile at my Mom and she would smile back at me.  Everyone had had a great day. No one even noticed the dirt.  We had soap back then, too.
 
Have a great day, everyone. :)