How giving children less, actually provides them with so much more

Photography: Marijke Smith

By Jamie Geurtjens

With the dramatic increase in anxiety, behavioral and attention disorders among our children, there is a new kind of parenting and teaching being called for. The great thing about this new approach is that it actually takes less time, creates less stress, and saves more money than what we are currently doing.

I call it ‘Wild and Free’ parenting, because it creates a sense of freedom, develops imagination, encourages exploration, discovery and adventure, as well as providing a connection to nature for the whole family. Best of all it helps to bring children into the present moment, and provides them with skills that grow responsibility, confidence and builds self-esteem.

Somewhere along the way we became a little lost and sometimes overwhelmed as parents. It used to be a lot more simple to raise a child, but with the onset of television, the media, and advertising, we began to feel that when it came to providing for our kids, more was better. Our kids needed the latest brightly coloured, over packaged toys, clothes, computers, phones, and had to be ‘entertained’ with an array of games, arts, crafts, after-school activities, all designed to grab our kids attention, but not challenging enough to hold it.

Phew! It’s all become too much, too expensive, over stimulation, and unchallenging.

The truth is, we have been brainwashed by the advertising industry, to believe that our children NEED brightly coloured plastic toys, gadgets, and technological devices, in order to learn, play and develop their imagination.

But what is really true is that they actually don’t need all these things at all. These ‘things’ actually hinder imagination and creativity because they are designed to be used in a certain way. They have instructions, and rules and it doesn’t take much brain power, or imagination to work them out. Before long, the expensive piece of plastic they just HAD to have is pushed under the bed with the rest of the plastic toys that no longer pose a challenge.

What they actually need most of all to extend and develop their imagination, is less ‘stuff’.

They need time in the natural environment, they need space, and they need us. Children need us, in a different kind of way than we have been led to believe. They need us to put down our phones, to see them, and be present.

They need time in the natural environment, they need space, and they need us. Children need us, in a different kind of way than we have been led to believe. They need us to put down our phones, to see them, and be present. They need to know a parent is there close by if they need reassurance, and to keep them safe. However, they don’t need us to provide them with entertainment, activities, instructions, expectations, toys, technology, or to Google answers to their questions.

What they will find out in the natural world is an uneasy, almost scratchy feeling called ‘boredom’. It is through this boredom that true creativity and imagination is developed. Because all of a sudden they aren’t filled with things, and activities, and they aren’t overstimulated.

Boredom creates a challenge for children. ‘I have nothing to do’ sends a message to the brain to find something to do, and so the real learning begins!

They have to go deep within to that magical place that has been long forgotten and draw on the well of incredible and unique imagination that every child has.

It is through giving our children less, that we actually give them the gift of so much more.

Ideas for raising kids to be ‘Wild and Free’:

  • Pack a picnic in a backpack and visit a forest, or nature reserve. Let your child take the lead and you just follow.
  • Sit outside together with nothing but coloured pencils and white paper, see what they can create from the inspiration that surrounds them.
  • Go to the beach, river, or lake with nothing but a picnic and see what they discover without plastic toys, buckets, or spades. See them getting creative with driftwood, rocks and shells.
  • Explore natural activities such as woodwork and whittling.
  • Let children design and create their own garden or outdoor play area using seeds, plants and scraps of wood.
  • Make one day a week ‘Wild and Free day’, where the TV gets unplugged, computers are turned off and even mum and dad put down their phones. Expect the scratchy feelings of boredom to take over, but persevere and be amazed at the creativity, and family bonding that comes out of it.

Do you have any other ideas for raising your kids ‘Wild and Free’? Let us know in the comments below so we can share experiences and learn from one another.

Jamie Geurtjens is a freelance writer from NZ, an author, mother, and former Waldorf head teacher, with a BA in Education, (early years) from Massey University. You can find more from Jamie at her website

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