When I was deciding to have children, parenting them during a global pandemic never even crossed my mind.
My kids are all school aged and the fall of 2020 was supposed to mark the beginning of having all three in full day school.
When their schools first closed, it was chaotic and difficult for us to find balance. However, as the months have gone on, we’ve developed a rhythm that really works for us. We have always been an active outdoor loving family, but rigid work, school, and sports schedules meant less time in nature.
But, now that our schedules are more flexible, we spend more time exploring. I know that time outside has always been key for my personal well being but what I didn’t realize was how important it was for my children.
Over the last several months, as we’ve spent more time in nature as a family, I’ve noticed that time in nature can empower children by giving them to space to use their imaginations as well as make decisions. One activity we do that gives them control is to allow them to pick our path. On days when we go out for a hike, they look at trail maps at home and plan which path they’d like to follow.
When we’re walking or biking in our neighborhood, the kids will alternate choosing a direction at each corner. They gain confidence in their own decision-making skills, and often a trip around the block turns into an exciting afternoon exploring our neighborhood.
As a parent, letting go of expectations, and allowing the kids to really take charge can sometimes be difficult. Yet I find myself enjoying our time outside more when I’m just along for the ride instead of being the leader.
I had to make peace with not getting in a certain number of miles, or making it to the top of a particular hill. I ensure we have snacks and water, but everything else is up to my kids. In the past, when I would choose the path, they’d be reluctant to go. Now that it’s up to them, it’s much easier to get out the door.
Being away from the pressure of work and school has everyone more relaxed and we have some amazing conversations. They ask questions almost constantly, which has been an unexpected way to expand our school curriculum, because they’ll ask about certain animals, or why things grow a certain way. I will request books from the library about topics they’re interested in and next time we’re out we apply that knowledge.
They can identify many different kinds of animal scat, and they’ve begun working on bird and plant names. They’ve learned to use our guidebooks independently and the pure joy they get from correctly identifying plants or animals is unbeatable.
We engage our senses, by pausing to observe what’s around us, stopping to sniff different leaves and trees, crushing empty seed pods and sticks, and so on.
I’ve seen my kids gain confidence in their bodies as they move over different terrain and discovering what works best for their bodies in order to keep moving.
Taking advantage of the flexibility and spending more unstructured, child-led time outdoors can create children who are empowered because it helps them gain confidence both in their decision-making skills as well as their bodies.
Over the past nine months, despite challenging circumstances, I’ve seen my children excel at all aspects of life. It’s been particularly noticeable with their schoolwork, as they often prefer to look answers up on their own now. Time outside is invaluable for empowering children and they gain confidence when they’re allowed to make decisions and play without structure.
I received a game in exchange for this blog post. All opinions expressed belong to me.
Andrea Govender is a recent college grad and mom of three, originally from Detroit but currently living in sunny California. She loves spending time outside with her family.
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