Following the Leader

When you’re two, life must appear as a never-ending series of restraints. It is an incessant struggle against restrictive measures imposed by cruel and clingy parents. Between cribs, strollers, car seats, baby gates, and mom’s firm grip on a forearm (or leg or shirt collar, depending on the toddler’s writhing abilities), there are few real opportunities for a two year old to experience freedom.

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This is why, whenever I can, I try to take my little one somewhere he can safely be in charge. We go to a city park or other green space, and I let him decide what to do. With the attention span of a chipmunk on Red Bull, he runs from peacock enclosure to sand pit, from tree to llama cage, from treat-seeking mallard to shiny candy wrapper litter. He climbs on rocks, balances on log borders, and invariably finds every lingering mud puddle in an otherwise dry location. As hard as it is, I try to keep my parental nagging in check. I resist the temptation to turn this into a structured “learning experience,” and aside from guiding him away from hissing Canada geese, I let him be. These have become some of our happiest times together.

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This is his opportunity to have fun, to learn, to grow and to make choices. I could choose to enroll him in toddler gymnastics or mommy & me yoga, but here he will develop physical abilities while learning about the natural world and his community. Plus, he can do it on his own terms, for free!

Perhaps this sounds overly obvious, and perhaps it was for earlier generations. However, between overbooked schedules, trends in computer and television use, and a decrease in accessible safe places to play, I believe activities like this are no longer the norm. Convince me I’m wrong!

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