Since last week, many of you have shared their childhood memories, both on the post and via e-mail. There were two common threads that stood out: 1) experiences in nature, and 2) activities you enjoyed with the special people in our lives (parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.).

It was absolutely lovely reading all the stories. It actually made me want to pick up the phone, call my grandmother and ask her to tell me stories from when we were little.

We all cherish those memories but rarely do we really think about what an important role they played in our upbringing.

Climbing in trees taught us how to move our bodies and strengthened our muscles.

Building a damn in a creek with friends involved problem solving and team work.

Baking with our grandmothers taught us about following directions, numbers and where our food came from.

Playing in the backyard for hours required us to have a vivid imagination and creativity. We rarely got bored.

Those first innocent and joyful experiences were the foundation for much bigger things. Skills that would have been challenging to master if we hadn’t had opportunities to practice and experiment.

Today vs. 20 years ago

A few years ago, a kindergarten teacher and I were talking about this very topic and she shared an eye-opening test with me that she does with her students every year. She takes a half-full cup of water and places it at the edge of a table. She then asks her students to place the cup off the edge of the table without it falling down. She said most students used to slowly move the cup further and further over the edge, experimenting and testing to see at what point the cup would tip over. Nowadays, more children are either daring and place the cup far over the edge and it falls to the ground. Or children are very hesitant and only nudge it off the edge a little bit. The teacher had been teaching for almost 20 years.

Amazing, isn’t it? It doesn’t take a scientific study to see that the outcome of how children are being raised today is very different from a couple of decades ago.

Yes, the world is a different place today. But we also don’t know what it’s going to be like 20, 30 or 50 years from now. Problem solving and creative thinking are, therefore, never going to go out of style.

While we can’t control what happens in the the world around us (no matter how much we want to), we DO have control over our immediate environment and the kinds of experiences with share with our children.

The Framework for a Simpler Childhood

When raising our children I tend look back to my own childhood and draw on it for inspiration and guidance. And I have come to realize that I always make sure, that their activities fit within a 3-part framework that consists of:

MOVE                THINK                LOVE

Okay, so what do I mean by that?

Let me explain…

When children are moving their bodies (gross and fine motor activities), are engaging their minds (and not just staring at a screen) and are enjoying strong connections with the people in their lives (baking with grandma, helping mom with laundry, reading a book with a big sister), they are learning about their place in the world, how that world around them works and they are doing it in a safe environment surrounded by loved ones. That’s a powerful combination.

Now, not all beneficial activities will fall right in the middle. There will be a good number of experiences that only include 2 components. Your child learns plenty from them as well. A few will include only 1 component and the rest will be outside the matrix. Those are the less desirable activities.

Now, as you think about that you probably get a general sense of where your child’s activities fall. No need to analyze every minute of your child’s life.

I have talked to many moms about this in some form and most of them know they can do better and want to make some changes. Though, they are not sure how they can achieve it and find that balance. The worry about getting their child ready for Kindergarten or their child missing out still lingers. Some of you might feel the same way. And that is completely normal.

Change is never easy, especially when it involves the life of our children. Therefore, my advice is always to take the smallest step possible. As you consider that, let me tell you what happened when my daughter entered Kindergarten.

My husband and I have given our children (now 3 and 6 years) a very simple and old-fashioned childhood. They spend most of their days outdoors and play for hours on end. Sometimes we go weeks without watching TV and despite having laptops, iPhones and iPads in the house, they have no idea what a video game is.

When our daughter entered Kindergarten she didn’t know any letters or numbers. Her teacher was concerned and we were offered a variety of extra services, which we all politely declined. A month later, that same teacher e-mailed me to tell me that her score on a test where children have to recognize as many letters as possible within one minute, had increased from 6 after the first week of school to 58 only  four weeks later.  That’s an over 800% improvement! She was at the same level as or above her classmates… all without any prior academic work.

It Only Takes a Tweak

Our daughter isn’t a little genius and it’s not a fluke. She was simply ready and had all those foundational experiences that prepared her mind and body for learning abstract concepts such as letters and numbers. In schools all across Germany, Switzerland and many other European countries, you can find very similar outcomes.

In the last post of this series, I’m going to share some simple tweaks you can do without feeling like you need to overhaul your life and move to a log cabin in Montana to give your child that simpler, more joyful childhood. And often those tweaks have a ripple effect that creates positive changes throughout your child’s life…and yours.

So, I’m challenging you to challenge me by sharing the answer to the following question:

If you could change one part of your child’s life what would it be?

More time with your child? Less TV and screens? Tired of hearing “I’m bored.” Easier access to nature.  A messy playroom. More independent play.

Share your answer in the comments below.

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