Monday, July 02, 2012


I was reading a list recently compiled by the British National Trust. 

It's designed to encourage us parents to give our children more space and freedom. Less molly-coddling, more self-discovery. Sadly in today's society the former is more prevalent.

I see parents stalking their 3-year-old children when they are with friends playing in a soft play indoor centre, constantly on their tail, not giving them an inch of space. 

I see parents jumping in and screaming every time their toddler goes near something that might challenge their motor skills or cause them to fall. Often the scream of fear from the parent is enough to frighten the child into having their own sympathy cry or never exploring again. 

What are we doing to our children?

The best book I ever read was 'Do Not Disturb: The Benefits Of Relaxed Parenting' by Deborah Jackson when my first born was 6 months and climbing and intent on going upstairs on his own. 

He was very ahead of himself in terms of physical ability and determination. It took me very much by surprise. Deborah Jackson advocated giving a child the freedom to explore their environments safely and without a parent wading in every five minutes saying, "don't climb, you'll fall". 

This only sets them up for disaster, because by saying they'll fail at something you plant that bad seed and they inevitably will fail.

If you back off and don't voice your own anxieties, children flourish and find their own balance and learn from their own mistakes. Within safe age-appropriate confines of course. 

I've had to bite my tongue a lot with my very active kids, and think of the positives such as "great climbing there" and "what careful balance you have", rather than "stop, you're going to fall". 

Conversely, I've seen children of over-anxious parents who don't practice positive enabling ending up with children who don't like to explore for themselves and have poor balance and co-ordination.

The proof in the pudding of this strategy for me was when my first born got on a pedal bike with no stabilizers for the first time at 3 and a half and rode it straight away. He had the confidence of knowing his own balance and what he could do physically, and he was flying. It was staggering to watch. 

Anyway, I'm digressing slightly...

Here's the list, which I plan to print out and stick on my notice board, and try to use as a guide to make me ease up on my kids a bit more. Because I do still find myself jumping in and stopping them from doing things, or moaning at them because I don't want them to do something like get wet in puddles or scribble on walls.
As yet, none of them have pooed in the bath, but if according to this list, it's a life-affirming milestone, then maybe I shouldn't be so squeamish about it and celebrate it if ever happens!

The 36 activities children should do by the time they turn 3

1. Made a mud pie
2. Baked a cake
3. Finger painted
4. Sung loudly in public
5. Climbed a big hill
6. Picked fruit
7. Danced with no inhibitions
8. Made sandcastles on the beach, right
9. Been chased by a monster
10. Jumped in a puddle so hard the water went in mummy’s shoe too
11. Belly-flopped
12. Fed the ducks
13. Blown bubbles
14. Had a teddy bears’ picnic
15. Chosen a favourite book
16. Ridden on the top of double-decker bus
17. Visited a museum
18. Been on a train ride
19. Fed an animal
20. Grown cress in the shape of your name
21. Worn pants on your head
22. Ridden tea-cups at the fair
23. Flown a paper aeroplane
24. Pooed in the bath
25. Stayed the night away from home
26. Ridden on daddy’s shoulders
27. Scribbled somewhere you shouldn’t
28. Cleaned your own teeth
29. Answered the phone
30. Mastered a party piece
31. Had a "first love"
32. Bought something in a shop
33. Set your sights on a future career (pirate, fairy or builder, perhaps?)
34. Told a fib
35. Made up an inappropriate nickname for someone
36. Broken something valuable

British National Trust’s 
50 Things a Child Should Do Before Turning 11¾

1. Climb a tree
2. Roll down a really big hill
3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den
5. Skim a stone
6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite
8. Catch a fish with a net
9. Eat an apple straight from a tree
10. Play conkers
11. Throw some snow
12. Hunt for treasure on the beach
13. Make a mud pie
14. Dam a stream
15. Go sledging
16. Bury someone in the sand
17. Set up a snail race
18. Balance on a fallen tree
19. Swing on a rope swing
20. Make a mud slide
21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild
22. Take a look inside a tree
23. Visit an island
24. Feel like you’re flying in the wind
25. Make a grass trumpet
26. Hunt for fossils and bones
27. Watch the sun wake up
28. Climb a huge hill
29. Get behind a waterfall
30. Feed a bird from your hand
31. Hunt for bugs
32. Find some frogspawn
33. Catch a butterfly in a net
34. Track wild animals
35. Discover what’s in a pond
36. Call an owl
37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
38. Bring up a butterfly
39. Catch a crab
40. Go on a nature walk at night
41. Plant it, grow it, eat it
42. Go wild swimming
43. Go rafting
44. Light a fire without matches
45. Find your way with a map and compass
46. Try bouldering
47. Cook on a campfire
48. Try abseiling
49. Find a geocache
50. Canoe down a river


Karien said...

I fully agree with you on all!
I always feel a bit judged at my laid back parenting, at the playground where I let them explore freely. And I am happy to say my kids score pretty well on the to-do list. Let children be children I say, dirt is good and a bump and a scratch are the best teachers ever...

Maud said...

These are lovely - though some of them are the reason I send them to nursery school, so I don't have to clean up after the mess. Also, my 6- and 3-year-olds spend all their outside time these days trying to find trees to climb, so I feel we're ahead of the curve on list 2 as well. :)

My kids were always active, and like you, I had to bite my tongue in the playground from an early stage. My philosophy was always that if they could climb it, they were allowed on it, but I wasn't putting anyone up somewhere they couldn't get to themselves. I also realised early on that my eldest, while active, is also naturally cautious and never got himself into somewhere he didn't know he could get out of. The second isn't so careful, but she's blessed with natural balance and the luck of the Irish.