Child Development – Independence

Child development - do we give our kids too much attention and are we thwarting their independence?

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” … leave the children alone. Pitch them out into the streets or the playgrounds, and take no notice of them.”

The novelist D.H. Lawrence wrote these words almost a hundred years ago but they still raise big questions today.

From their earliest days we drag and cajole our children into ever more organised activities.

We hoik our new borns around endless “baby gym”, music, signing and massage “classes”.

Many of us put our kids in childcare very young. Children start school earlier and earlier – in the UK most go at 4. And we organise every more complicated crafts plus science, reading and maths activities.

But isn’t all this stimulation good for our child’s development?

Some evidence suggests not. Or at least that children are missing out on opportunities to entertain themselves … free from adult direction … and even, god forbid, to be bored.

A friend of mine who is a Professor of Child Development and who has been following groups of London children from birth to adolescence says that there has been a noticeable drop in children’s ability to work out “what to do” when left to their own devices.

Anecdotally, my sister, who does admissions at a top ranked college, says she is increasingly shocked by the number of grade A 18 year olds who haven’t read a novel apart from those studied at school.

Maybe, every generation thinks the next lack independence of thought.

But I do think things were different when I was a kid. Most of the time we played outside with all the other kids on the street … without our mums … the big ones looking after the littlies. It had to be really pouring down for us to stay in.

My mum was a playgroup leader and she did organise activities for us but I know sometimes she looks aghast at my desire for my 3 year old to be “learning” something specific through organised play.

My mum adores this post from a wonderful blogger The Seasoned Homemaker who “entertains” her grandchildren by letting them dig mud in a fallow bed, poke with a stick at the wet ashes in the BBQ and watch the bin men.

Yesterday my daughter entertained herself spontaneously by jumping on bubble wrap! Was this experience of making your own fun more valuable than all my planned activities?

I am not sure.

What should we do? Forget all the “learning” activities & pitch our kids out in the street & leave them alone as Lawrence suggested. Or did he have it wrong?

What do you think?

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Luci

Luci

Hello, I'm Luci, Editor of Mums Make Lists. MML is full of creative tips I’ve put together to bring calm and balance to the lives of busy mums and their families.

14 thoughts on “Child Development – Independence”

  1. I think you need a healthy balance. If you provide activities that allow them to explore in an open ended way, they learn to use curiosity as a tool for play. Then if you “pitch them out on the street” they will have a better idea of how to play and entertain themselves. There are 5 year olds on my estate who are left to their own devices without parental supervision, but they don’t seem to know how to ‘jump in puddles’ or ‘play with a stick’. Its like they have never been shown that you can have fun with anything that doesn’t have flashing lights and make noises, so when they are left outside they just ride their bikes up and down.
    Thanks for linking to the Sunday Parenting Party, I always enjoy your posts, I’m pinning to the Pinterest board.

  2. I think you need a healthy balance. If you provide activities that allow them to explore in an open ended way, they learn to use curiosity as a tool for play. Then if you “pitch them out on the street” they will have a better idea of how to play and entertain themselves. There are 5 year olds on my estate who are left to their own devices without parental supervision, but they don’t seem to know how to ‘jump in puddles’ or ‘play with a stick’. Its like they have never been shown that you can have fun with anything that doesn’t have flashing lights and make noises, so when they are left outside they just ride their bikes up and down.
    Thanks for linking to the Sunday Parenting Party, I always enjoy your posts, I’m pinning to the Pinterest board.

  3. I read this and gave it some thought before commenting (doesn’t mean this is going to make any sense but here goes!) I wonder about that a lot – the balance between spending time playing with my daughter and leaving her to play on her own. It’s crucial that children learn how to entertain themselves. If not (I believe) when they get to be teenagers and older they are going to get themselves into trouble. Just my view. It’s a fine line that I’m constantly working on getting right. I liked this thought-provoking post!

  4. Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking post – I am definitely guilty of feeling like I should be entertaining my son more or less all of the time when I am with him. That isn’t to say that I do – I just feel a bit guilty leaving him to his own devices (he’s not quite one, so obviously his own devices doesn’t mean playing on the street, more choosing which toy he wants from the toy box!) but then I remind myself that he needs time where he makes the decisions. I think it’s important for our little ones to have opportunities to express themselves and explore their interests, rather than the things we think they might or should be interested in. Not to mention that, as babies, everything is pretty stimulating for them. I wouldn’t want someone in my face all the time trying to entertain me and I imagine our babies and children are pretty similar in that respect, though of course (as with all things in life it seems!) there is a balance to be struck! Thanks for making me think and apologies for a somewhat garbled stream of consciousness!

  5. We are what I call ‘actively hands off’ when it comes to entertaining the children – it helps that there are five of them, so the older ones certainly entertain each other, and I love listening to them making up their games “Pretend you were…” as they describe their activities. I think if I were to get involved it would loose a lot of the magic for them. We also believe in letting the kids get bored – especially while travelling, which we have done a lot of. I want them to learn to stare out of the window and watch the world go by and make up their own games – with just a little bit of help from me.

  6. I find if I do not give my daughter unstructured play time at home she gets very grumpy and has a tough time. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

  7. I think this is such a good question. One that I wonder a lot. We do both, but I always question if our balance is the right one. I’m not sure that I will ever know, but as long as we are enjoying the process, I will focus on that.

  8. Hi, I’ve found this a bit late, but I too think it’s a balance. I like to make meaningful toys/activities available but more and more I think open-ended materials are best (art materials, blocks etc). We are taking from children the joy of discovery and creativity – their own that is, not the adults.
    I don’t think “boredom” is good necessarily on reflection – no child with access to materials, and our time when they need it should really be bored, although they might need thinking time of course, which is different.

  9. I think giving children attention and not letting them learn to solve their own problems are two separate issues. Helping children learn problem solving is a fantastic life skill that will set them up for success. But problem solving (and success for children in general) is best achieved by supporting age-appropriate independence rather than by ignoring them! I am a big fan of letting children get bored but their environment needs to be structured and accessible in a way that the boredom can lead to somewhere interesting……

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