Children are explorers. Enable that curiosity and inquisitive mind!
Every child is an explorer!
Think for a minute, and you will agree - they are most likely to get into places where you thought they couldn't get on to, maybe table tops via a chair, or staircases with short rails when no one is looking. They discover what you try and keep them safe from - electric sockets and shoes. They will find the food that you do not wish them to eat and devour them. They might even spill family secrets (when they are old enough and have heard what you did not want them to) like a triumphant explorer, showing off a rare find, dropping them right into a family gathering.
While you may as a parent not be too happy about such exploration, it certainly means that kids need to explore, and as parents, we need to let them explore safely. When you keep a child from exploring, you are naturally quelling their spirit and putting them at a disadvantage in the world.
How is exploration good for kids?
It helps them understand the world better- No matter how much you tell someone about something, to experience something makes all the difference. Feeling the wind in your hair, or tracing the undulating bark of a tree with your fingers, the thrill of riding a bike, are all best experienced.
It helps them build perspective and opinions- Children must develop their own views from a young age. Enabling exposure is the part the parent plays. You take them to a carnival, a Ganesh Mandal or a football game. You encourage them to read, to play. You will notice that even within the same family, siblings will have divergent opinions as they start finding their voice. One may prefer playing football, while another prefers to learn the guitar.
Helps them be who they are - As kids grow older, their opinions grow and change, morph and solidify, it helps them be who they are meant to be. We find ourselves through exploration.
Teaches them to value experiences and not things - When you can provide the tools of exploration, they will appreciate the experience. It is not the ball that is important in football, but the energising experience of playing as a team, finding new ways to defend the goal, passing the ball and being a better player that is important. So make it about exploration, learning and experience.
They learn life skills - You cannot push a square peg through a round hole. It's not just a cliche, but a life lesson too as you explore shapes via a sorting toy. An open-ended toy can be whatever you wish it to be. Blocks can be a castle, a path, or a wall. Exploring a seascape with a fishing rod, teaches you about fish, about how to fish and how the fish can escape.
Builds confidence - When children build a tall tower by themselves or when they climb a tree, it makes then a step more confident. Even a toddler taking a tottering step by himself, is more confident the next time, even if he falls.
How can we help kids explore?
We provide the right conditions - Show them what is out there and let them be. Babies will learn to crawl and then walk and run, naturally. The only requirement is that you let them have their space. You cannot keep a baby confined for fear of a fall. All you can do is gently remove anything dangerous from their path.
We give them the tools to explore - Play is the most significant tool for exploration in childhood. Children discover their strength, their talent, their likes from play. Provide them with playtime and toys that can enable exploration. Books, for instance, are a great tool to explore not just new stories, but places, ideas and more.
Be a hummingbird parent - yes, you heard that right. Hummingbirds just stay about sipping nectar, just intervening only when necessary. So let kids engage, explore and discover for themselves, keeping them safe. There is no wrong way to play with open-ended toys. They are piling up a puzzle instead of making a picture; its entirely all right. There is enough time and opportunity to build a pic another time.
Mark boundaries - This far and no further. Kids are natural explorers, but caregivers need to fix limitations. Be they physical or just about behaviour. Stay where you can see me(I can see you) is a good one outdoors and do not fling the block at anyone is basic indoors.
Let them take the lead - Each kid will explore at a different pace, differently. Let children take the lead in exploration. Support them. Be available to them.
Encourage questions - Why is the single most powerful word in a child's vocabulary. Encourage them to use it as often as possible. Add a few more like how, where, when and what for effect. Watch them bloom.
Every child is a born explorer no matter what they end up doing eventually. Childhood is a time to explore, discover and learn all we can. Today, there is more to discover than ever before as we learn more and more about the universe. Let those young explorers blossom. Happy exploration!