It’s Out There, Kids — Go Find It

Sending the kids outside to explore makes them curious and brave.

The drive to play is in all kids. So is another drive, less often discussed: The drive to explore.

Without that drive, kids would be stuck simply waiting for someone to tell them about the world. Vessels, not Vikings. That’s not a successful recipe for the species, so Mother Nature installed the explore drive.

If you remember the thrill of discovering a secret place, strange plant, or cool neighborhood — or neighbor! — you know that exploration is hugely rewarding…

And a little bit risky. After all, if you’re going someplace you already completely know and understand, that’s not exploring.

That’s commuting.

Venturing into the unknown requires a bit of bravery, a quality you don’t hear much about today, at least when it comes to kids. To grow brave requires realizing how much you can handle, even when things go wrong. In a culture trying to make sure NOTHING goes wrong (and suing when it does!), bravery gets short shrift. But what’s the opposite of bravery?

Anxiety. It’s no surprise that childhood anxiety has been going up as the freedom to make their way in the world has been going down.

Open sesame.

So this week, for our Fifth Weekly Summer of Independence Challenge, we say open the door and point to outside as the place for your kids to go. If you are in a neighborhood too dangerous to do that, maybe it is time for the kids to explore something closer to home that’s also new and mysterious to them: your spice cabinet, junk drawer, or old photo albums. (That’s how I learned my mom had been married before! “Mom, what’s this wedding photo?”)

But if what’s outside your door is not particularly treacherous, teach your kids things like how to cross the street safely, and then — let them go.

In truth, I’m a little embarrassed to be making this into an activity, complete with a “safety tip.” My God, that is the very culture Let Grow is trying to combat! The one that says everything is a big deal and presents risk, and requires adults to help the kids to prepare even for something as fun and self-explanatory as, “Go explore the neighborhood.” So it’s also fine if you just say, “It’s summer. Out you go. Be home by supper!”

Prizes for becoming independent!

And don’t forget that we are collecting evidence of just how competent and curious kids can be. (And struggling is usually on the path to competence, so we celebrate that, too.) Enter our Let Grow Independence Challenge with a photo or video of your kid(s) doing something new and they can win $500 in prizes. (Don’t stalk them. Just take a picture ONE of the times they do some new thing.)

And guess what? A little essay by you about how you learned to let go could win you a prize too — $100 for first prize, and two $50 runner-ups. Enter either of the contests by clicking here.

Finally, if you want to refresh your brain, heart and soul, I suggest you do some exploring, too — just for fun. It is so easy to get into a rut and the ruts got so deep during Covid. Take a new route, go to a new eatery, visit someplace that for some reason you never checked out. You’ll feel the zing of the new.

Me, I’m in a national park for the first time and I found myself crying, it’s so exciting to see new plants and animals and vistas. I’m less excited about carrying around bear spray, but didn’t we just agree: There is no growth without a little risk?

To exploring! — L