I was listening to a Jordan Peterson podcast recently and he was speaking to listeners about what he believed to be some of the most transformative learning experiences we all have as children. He discusses how those experiences served us then and now as adults. He then goes on to share how those very experiences translate to our children’s lives. He spent quite a bit of his talk sharing thoughts about the proverbial ‘playground’, something everyone experiences. We learned a lot on the playground and whether we know it or not, those experiences have played (pun intended) a significant role in how we socialize. Think about it with me for a moment if you would.
I believe strongly in socializing children from the very beginning, family, friends and adventures where we meet new friends- from the simple task of going to the grocery store to taking a trip on an airplane. We have lots of opportunities to engage our children with folks we know and those we don’t know teaching them about socializing along the way. Lots of demonstrating also, no doubt. We know they are watching us and can sense how we approach all sorts of people and situations.
The playground puts all those little lessons we learned along the way to the test and all the ‘characters’ as Jordan Peterson calls them, are there; the familiar, the new, the bully, the loner, the charismatic, the class clown and more. There are more similarities than not to our lives as adults in the playground scenario. So why not embrace it fully as a true learning experience for your child? Think about all the lessons you may have learned and afford your child the same; collaboration, empathy, listening, self-efficacy, sharing, taking risk and last but certainly not least- the simple joy of playing.
In my 30 years of teaching and working alongside families at the Colorado Springs Conservatory I have witnessed all sorts of parenting styles and my goodness, how they have evolved during that time. I can say without hesitation that the parents that truly allowed their children to have these ‘playground’ experiences are the most grounded, thoughtful and wise humans I know. In the 30 years, I have had the privilege of watching many of them grow into beautiful and profound adults. In the case of the Conservatory, that lovely and inclusive eco-system and learning environment was the ‘playground’- God knows, the characters are all there as well.
Part of allowing the ‘playground’ learning experience to occur for your child is to remain present alongside your child, but not to hover. We may not realize the difference, but oh, it’s a BIG difference.
Your child has to walk to the playground themselves and take it all in. Allow them that for staters. We don’t always do that- be honest- we don’t. Sometimes, we predetermine for them, who they are to play with, pointing them in the direction of who we deem most suited. Watch them interact- WATCH them interact. Taking our children to the playground shouldn’t be a ticket to get on our phones and bury our thoughts and attention elsewhere. It’s a challenge, but you can do it. Remember, these are life moments and soon the playground they experience is out of your hands as they grow up. As we watch our children, we then have means for conversation after the experience to discuss what happened. That conversation is just as important as the actual experience.
If we allow our children to watch, experience and navigate various social scenarios, they are that much richer for it. Yes, even the bullying experience- whether they are the bully or they are being bullied- we need to allow them to understand that those motives exist and why. That lesson becomes ‘resilience’ and ‘self-awareness’- another story for another time. I am not warranting abandoning your child to experience something that may physically hurt them mind you, however, I am suggesting you give them the space to personally experience and witness all. Watch how beautifully they respond.
The playground is a rich landscape ripe with so many learning opportunities. Even when they are little tinies and we need to help them up on the slide, or the monkey bars- we can be aware of the depth of what our children are learning and help them to understand how every experience affords us to be that deeper human we are all here to be.
It’s a nice day, let’s get out and go to the playground. What do you say?