How to Stir the “Desire to Explore” in your kids?

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My kids are big-time explorers; indoors and outdoors. Interestingly many other moms I am friends with are noticing this, and as we talk about what helps to spark the desire to explore in kids, I realized this would be something great to share on Nested Blissfully.

So here I am writing a post about, some of the things I do differently as a parent that I think might be contributing to their independence and are stirring a desire in them to explore – nature outdoors and practical life indoors.

Let me first mention to you what I mean when I say my kids love to explore–

They like to forge in the backyard, they will make a lot of “pretend play” without any pretend-play toys, they love..love..love nature, water, rocks, dirt, mud and all kind of other things with textures.

Indoors they like to experiment and observe, how two random different things fit together, “Mom, it fits” is one of the more common sentences I hear in a day.

They like the grocery store’s produce aisle because they can see and spot different fruits and vegetables in there.

Do you see a pattern? They like to know and explore the natural and human world and are not engaged in toys only.

AND every kid is like this. They all love nature and our everyday practical life!

The problem is sometimes we (adults) are the ones that come in their way, we don’t let them explore because of various fears and prejudices we have developed.

In reality, kids are very careful and observant little people who love to learn by doing.

Now, since you have come so far, I am going to ask you to be open to what I have to share here, on letting your kids explore without prejudices, and I’ll share a ton of benefits to exploring too.

Hang in there; this is a long one because I do have to say a lot!

Benefits of exploring in kids

Let’s quickly talk about; why do I think this trait is good for kids, and why should you work on developing the “explorers’ trait” in your child!

  • When they work with random things and try to figure out how it works, they work through innumerable possibilities which makes their mind grow exponentially.
  • They don’t develop destructive or bad behavior — because their mind is working really hard on construction and making things work and connection and fixing.
  • They are very self-driven and self-motivated.
  • All that play in nature with mud and grass and leaves are true sensory play for kids in nature. The same sensory play that we as moms work hard to recreate with sensory bins.
  • Their mind learns processing, which is a pretty complex thing to learn.
  • Long and deep Concentration Periods. This is hand down my favorite thing they learn from exploring. Kids develop very-very long concentration periods. (You know why I like this one? Because it’s the exact opposite to the dreaded ADHD.)

Exploring gets them thinking and processing and really using the “how” and “why” parts of their brain, which is so important in the first 6 yrs of a child’s life; because that age is when their mind grows the most.

Related Post: The Psychology behind why your toddler is not listening.

Related Post: WAIT – The Golden Principle of Respectful Parenting.

How to help kids develop the “explorers trait”

As you can see I am so glad my little ones have this “explorers trait” and after reading all the benefits of exploring, I am sure you wanna know how to help your kids ‘like exploring’.

1. Every action has benefits and learning, even if you don’t see them!

The first thing I have done since they were babies was — I never (never) disturbed or bothered them when they were doing something.

Even if it meant playing with derbies on the carpet, or playing with spilled water on the floor.

Yes, it’s messy, and I used to sit like a hawk behind them when they did it, nervous and prepared to redirect them when they put it in their mouth. But I saw so much learning opportunity in all the things they did and played with.

For an instance — Exploring spilled water on the floor had so much learning in it; the texture of water (wetness), what happens when you thump water with your hand (it splashes around), what happens when you run your hands in the water (it splashes with a different intensity), and so on and on…

It may seem very little or insignificant to us as adults, but to a toddler — it’s new, exciting and very engaging.

All it takes from us is the courage, to let them play with water on the floor or random particles on the carpet. Because to be honest, the water is already spilled on the floor and you’ll have to clean it anyway, why not let them explore a little.

(Yeah, there’s a chance of wet clothes too, but the learning is invaluable.)

2. Don’t teach them; let them learn.

Boy, this one is so difficult for so many adults to accept and wrap their heads around.

Even after trying to explain this to my mom so many times; she’ll say this to me every few days — “ How is he going to learn if you don’t teach him”.

Isn’t that what’s going in your mind too?

Well, the truth is — Kids learn any and everything on their own, by watching others, or by other resources, but they learn by themselves! You can only “teach them” or “show them” when they are ready for it.

When left alone to do it independently, they explore and learn a big bunch of things simultaneously.

This “don’t teach them”; goes for everything — toys, coloring, eating by themselves, learning to walk…everything!

And for the parents eager to make sure their kids know it. Remember this — Kids know to ask for help, they’ll ask you how it works or what to do, when they need to know! They always do.

  Everyone learns at their own pace; Don’t teach them; let them learn.

3. Say “NO” as less as possible.

Resist saying “No” or stopping them from experimenting as much as possible —  there is a very high possibility you don’t know the reason or the variable that is in your child’s mind.

If you can’t say yes or you need more information to decide; then you must at least ask them the “why?” behind what they are seeking permission for; before saying no!

Always ask them the reason why they wanna do something, before saying NO, they deserve that respect.

This up here is big (big) piece to help kindle that desire to explore in kids. And, it’s very confidence boosting when you say “yes” or “you can always do whatever you want”; instead of no.

The fact that they are seeking a permission = They really want to do it but are not sure.

When you say yes at that, their inner self-confidence moves up a ladder!

However, to be honest, my kids don’t seek my permission anyhow (yes it’s kinda rough out here). Plus when my son asks I often tell him, “you can do anything you want to”, and with the rule of not bothering them, they do get to do a lot of things without hearing “Don’t do that” from me.

This is particularly difficult outside or at other people’s house. I once had a dear friend ask me – “don’t they go to other people’s house for playdates” which was really her way of saying “your kids are getting into things they should not”. I did try to redirect them and tell them what not to do, but it was our first time talking about what not to do; so it wasn’t working very well.

Was I flushed at that moment? Of course, I was flushed and embarrassed!

So much so, I reconsidered my decision of just letting them be; and trying to control their actions. But when I thought about all the benefits I gain from letting them explore, I am more than thankful and stuck to my grounds of not trying to control them.

And honestly, awkward parenting moments come to all of ours’ share; if not this than something else.

My standard rule of thumb is don’t say no unless it’s a safety hazard to any living being (plants included).

As a matter of fact, I let them go ahead and do new things that should rather not be done if it’s their first time, and if it’s too much work for me to clean up, I tell them it was okay to do it for once, but we’ll not be doing this again.

But never say “NO” without knowing what’s in their mind.

Related Reading: YES SPACE: Independent and Safe Play Spaces for Babies and Toddlers.

4) Get very simple toys; particularly “no sounds” ones.

Such a tough one right. There are so many awesome and enticing toys out in the market, and as kids grow older their demands grow and it’s so difficult to avoid getting these toys home; especially when you want to honor their choice.

However, this should help — I read this somewhere and it has stuck to me! 

Get toys that need your kids to do things to the toy to entertain themselves; instead of toys that entertain your kids.

(I don’t remember the exact sentence, but this was the gist of it.) 

I hope this makes sense, basically get simple toys so your kids have to work with the toys to keep themselves engaged.

So, say you plan to get a baby toy – get a rattle that they have to shake to make a sound, rather than a toy on which they have to press a button to play tons of sounds.

A simple rattle helps the child understand cause and effect. This is GOLD.

We need to be especially conscious about toys for babies, because of the plethora of toys out there for them, which mostly just confuses and startles the babies.

Even as a toddler and older kids, we’ve to stay strong and choose wisely, especially since they can talk and ask for those flashy toys.

Simple toys need kids to use their minds to make a connection, they have a cause and effect to them, they need patience and kids have to discover things in them.

The simpler the toys the more satisfying it is for kids in the long run; it may seem the other way when we see them excited about flashy toys, but that excitement dies way too soon!

As Maria Montessori said: “ Play is a child’s work.”

They learn so much from play, we have to be careful when choosing their tools for play!

Related Reading: 10 tips to get your child interested in reading; when your child hates reading.

5) Make a loose parts box.

We have a loose part box for kids to play with outdoors, and it was hands down the best decision.

I know your question! What is a loose part?

Loose parts are things that have multiple uses to them and are not complete on their own.

Think things like little pipes, little cups with and without holes, hammer, sieve, tongs, rocks, brush, measuring spoons, shovel, “creamer”, spray bottle, squirt bottle and other random things like these, which really make sense when they are used with other material around.

Especially natural material like sand, water, mud, leaves etc.

Trust me this is one of the most innovative and played with “thing” in our garage.

The possibilities that get created with the loose parts box is amazing, and the things kids come up to do with the loose parts box is seriously impressive!

Flowers get planted, leaves get stamped, water gets measured, bird’s nest gets build, they fill a bucket of water with measuring spoons and little cups which takes a lot of coordination, and is exhausting to mind and body, but it’s real self-directed play.

Our loose parts box gets played outdoors mostly at this point, but that could possibly be because the weather was nice outdoors. We definitely use a lot of the material from these loose parts box indoors too.

They can go on and on for a couple of hours with the loose parts box, without looking for me. It’s probably the most used toy in our house!

But, it is an advanced thinker kinds box, because my 18-month-old daughter mostly follows my 3 yr old, and can only do simpler things.

Related Reading: 12 Summer Safety Tips – to avoid Bummers in Summers!

6) Don’t play with them at the children’s museum and places like those

It surprises me when I see adults trying to play with kids at places that are made specifically for kids, like the children’s museum, or play area in the mall or at the library.

Places like these are specifically made with kids interest and safety in mind. Things in these places are very self-correcting and inviting for a child to play independently!

Don’t entertain them or try to show them how it works.

Not there — especially not there!

Those places are already very inviting for kids and your interruption in their plan is the last thing that kids think as fun.

Kids like to map a plan for what they see there, and then try it and look for results.

When we try to “show them how it works”; we rob them of their train of thought.

Plus, these are the places where kids are naturally independent, and they are the places for you as a parent to take a break, relax and give you busy parent mind some rest!

Rule of thumb: A rule of thumb I follow at the children’s museum is — I don’t initiate an interaction with them, but I do interact with them with complete attention, anytime they want to show to tell me something!

(unless my 18 mo is putting something in her mouth, at which point I do a long jump across the room)

Little Exploreres

7) Do Nature Walks.

I wish I did more of these. They are simple walks through city parks!

A lot of parks have small trails that are manageable for kids, length and terrain wise.

All the kids I know love these little hikes, they are so informative and so stimulating for mind and body!

Although this is one activity where I guide them more than usual, just out of my own enthusiasm. I encourage them to listen for and spot birds, and to learn special plants, look for pretty leaves, or acorns, show them plants with thorns (so they know to be careful) and all that.

It’s a much slower activity than you can think, because we are stopping and bending down at every 2 steps, and we usually end up turning around than finishing the trails, just because of our speed, but there is tons of learning at nature walks!

It’s such a relaxing and bonding time, that encourages kids to explore more!

UPDATE: Edited to add the following benefit (because these kids don’t stop amazing me with their discoveries)

8. Problem Solving

All those self-discoveries from the exploring develops a trait that is very important for the adult mind. – Problem Solving.

Because kids have to try and connect and see what fits together to achieve a certain thing they have in mind that they want to build; they have to go through a lot of thinking and processing which leads to learning to problem solve.

I’ll share a recent incidence —

We brought a sound bar which came with a sub woofer. If you have seen a subwoofer it has a big hole near the bottom. Well, my kids discovered that hole and were curious about what happens when we put things in there, so they put random things in there when we were not paying attention of course.

This lead to 2 very upset adults, because they did manage to stuff in a bunch of things in the subwoofer, which was really bad for the sound and lost things; and more importantly we feared a bad habit in creation.

We tried to turn it over to bring out things from there, but it’s hollow and has a very weird design. We could not bring things out from there, not a single penny out from a 4-inch diameter hole, it was bad.

BUT, and it’s a big BUT; a few days later they were playing near it again, and discovered that my little is the only one whose hand will slide in there and she can pull out things from it to fix the problem.

They were ecstatic  (and so was I). She pulled out pencils, bubble maker wand, crackers, coins, crayons, 2-3 play fishes and a salt shaker from in there.

You see- they created a problem, but they found a solution too. A solution that two 30+ yr old adults could not find!

How amazing is that?


This was it guys, I have unrolled my sleeves with all the tricks I have to kindle the fire of “lemme try this” aka “desire to explore”.

I do think our low media and low screen-time policy in the house also adds to the fact that they love to explore, but I don’t like to talk much about it since it’s a very sensitive topic.

But for the most part; these are a few of the unusual things we do with our kids that I think add to the fact that they love to explore and keep themselves busy in rather positive activities, and have their minds constantly stimulated.

Related Reading: 21 Screen-Free Activities.

Related Reading: 45 Funny Questions to Ask Your Kids.

Author

Kay

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