My toddler absolutely loved watering the garden (and I say loved not loves very intentionally). It was what she did every morning with our house help, who loved that she joined her. It was the same at the Kindergarten every day. Her love for ‘gardening’ was universally known and encouraged by everyone around her. During the summer break our help at home changed. The new lady was in a rush to do her job and didn't enjoy the ‘extra work’ that came with Mia wanting to water the garden. For a while, Mia looked longingly as the plants were watered, but in less than a week - my toddler's obsession for watering plants was killed. This got me thinking about how critical it is for us as parents to carefully choose our children’s caregivers and the people who surround them. It takes very little to kill the innate curiosity of a toddler.
Finding a caregiver who is just right
Today, as two working parents, it's tough for us to be there 24/7 for our kids. However, the choice we have is to decide who will be there. Children need exposure and new experiences - small and big. You never know what will catch a child’s fancy – it could be watering the garden, or sweeping the house or playing with bubble wrap... but if a child is never exposed to these everyday experiences - how are we to know what triggers a child’s imagination, dislike or love for something?
In similar vein – it’s not always about finding something a child loves, but also something they don’t like in equal measure. At Papagoya, the Norwegian Kindergarten I run, we typically find children who come in not liking the sandpit, or the wet grass. This doesn’t stop us from exposing children to these elements. We see that in a short time they are running about barefoot on the wet grass or putting sand all over themselves. Had we not persisted, an entire sensorial experience would have been ignored.
Another example I love citing and often tell parents is about climbing stairs. A caregiver whose job is to ensure the comfort and safety of a child will rarely allow a child to climb stairs because of the risk involved in the fall. However, if your caregiver not only ensures safety but also encourages learning and exploration, the child would be allowed to climb stairs with a protective pair of hands waiting - just in case, the child was to stumble or fall. Imagine how different your child will develop. Think about the skills your child learnt by just being able to explore and climb – we are talking core strength, balance, counting, independence and much more … the list goes on.
A caregiver’s role goes above and beyond safety and comfort of a child. If we want our children to be confident, independent and imaginative, the adult must encourage and welcome such opportunities for the child.
The word NO and the rules around it
Often children are restricted, not because of their inhibitions, but because of our own inability to be willing to go the extra mile. Yes, cleaning up after your toddler just fed herself is a nightmare. But for a moment, just step back and think about the confidence you are giving your child, the skill they are building, the precision they have to master when picking up food and putting it in their mouth, the textures they experience while feeding themselves. Doesn’t that make the extra 15 minutes spent cleaning up so worth it?
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As caregivers, we can create many unnecessary boundaries for a child, instead of allowing them to experience a situation and decide for themselves (within a certain safety net of course). The word ‘No’ is overused. As adults and caregivers, it comes far too easily, but how often do you stop to think about why you said “No” to a child?
At home and at the Kindergarten, we have a simple rule about the word “No” –
1. Is what the child doing going to injure, hurt or disrupt people around them and
2. Is what the child doing going to injure, hurt or harm the child himself/herself?
If the answer to any one of these is “Yes”, then, by all means, go ahead and say “No”. However, if the answer is “No” to both questions, then you absolutely need to allow the child to explore further and you, as the caregiver, need to be close to support or protect.
Caregivers come in a variety of forms – nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, daycares and kindergartens.
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Questions you need to ask yourself:
It’s crucial we ask ourselves these questions when we leave our children with a caregiver, no matter who they are. We trust caregivers with all our heart. And we need to feel confident that they will provide a nurturing and more importantly, an enabling environment for our children. At the end of the day, no matter what, our child’s interests truly need to be at the centre of all they do.
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