When my son was 3 and 4 years old he was not in preschool. He did not start school until kindergarten. No, I did not worry that he would be behind his peers. Many of my friends had their children in preschools 3 or more days a week. We often make the mistake of seeing child rearing as a competition. People have the rest of their lives to compete. I believed then and I believe now that it is essential to nurture children’s creativity-at home-with the loving eyes and arms of a parent. In our case, that meant me. We chose to have less money and more time with our son. That wasn’t our original plan. Until our daughter was born, I planned to be home for 6 weeks and then send her to daycare, resuming my career. The have-it-all gig. But our daughter did not have it all. She had multiple birth defects. She was in and out of the hospital frequently. She had 8 surgeries in 10 months and 5 days. And then she died. I do not tell you that so that you say ‘oh, poor Kate’. Instead I tell you so that you understand how very much I wanted to make every moment with my son count. I wanted TIME. I wanted moments that took my breath away. And God made certain that I got them.
My son loved running and playing. He loved being outdoors—looking for bugs, watching animals, climbing trees, hiking, running, kicking the ball, all of those things. And so, he and I would fill our days with joy. We would head to the beach on a summer day. In the fall we would kick through the leaves. We would build forts indoors on a rainy day. We would drag discarded appliance boxes home, put them in the basement and build a village or series of forts out of them. We would go to the library and check out piles of books. We would bake. We would talk. We would create stories and plays. We would walk around the pond and in the woods. We would lift up logs and big rocks to see the bugs underneath. When they were there, my son’s face would light up with delight, wonder, and joy. I loved that look! At night we would pray about his day. He would end each prayer with prayers for God to bless various people, his pets, and then he would add ‘God bless the beautiful world that you made’.
If it was pouring outside we would dash outside to splash in the puddles, and make little boats out of leaves and sticks. We delighted in our days. If I had it to do over again, I would have home-schooled him all the way through high school. Instead, I caved in to the pressure and sent him. At school, some years were good, many not so good at all. He has healed from the pain inflicted on him by bullying classmates and teachers. It took a long time. I know kids can be mean—but some really excel at it. I know teachers get stressed out and overreact as we all do. But the pain some of them inflicted goes well beyond that. Fortunately, despite all that, his compassionate heart is even more loving now. And he still delights in the wonders and joys of God’s creation. I like to think that that part of him remains because I insisted on nurturing and reinforcing that wonder and curiosity in him.
Curiosity stems from many things. When people, especially children, are encouraged to look below the surface for wonderful things that are there it often then becomes a skill they transfer to other parts of their lives. My son is in love with learning and has an unquenchable thirst for knowing and understanding. I like to think that our activities together: splashing in puddles; reading many stories; building with Legos; cooking; play dough,;walking in forests; splashing in the ocean; swimming in lakes; building volcano experiments with sand-bakingsoda-and-vinegar; looking for bugs under the rocks; praying, singing; drawing (on drawing paper, not coloring books ;-)); and talking all helped him to grow and love.
And so, something as simple as looking for bugs under the rocks can help a child to fall in love with learning. They learn that lifting an unwieldly, heavy rock can help to see something amazing. If they do this enough times, and in enough areas of life they do translate it into a strategy for life. All without a lecture, all without an extensive class on it. Children know authenticity. And they respect it and make it their own.