The Contributions of Children: finding life beyond the mess

By Angel Jackson

A week ago we attended a going away party for two friends moving to another city. There were a few kids at the party including our three and a bunch of adults. It was a rather nice outdoor party on a Friday evening in the city. Within 60 seconds of arriving at the party our older son managed to find the food table, attempt to serve himself some fruit, and tip 1/2 the contents of the fruit salad onto the ground--welcome to the party Jackson Family!

This is were we usually stop with the contributions of children, they make a mess at otherwise nice affairs. They are loud, they run in spaces much too small to be ran in, they yell, scream and cry much more than is socially acceptable and did I say they MAKE A MESS!

They do make a mess and much of my life is spent cleaning up this mess but luckily on that night we were able to get past that moment of fruit salad on the ground at this party and be present to some really neat contributions.

The party took place on the front lawn of our friend's condo building. Along the stone front steps up to the building were two stone slopes, one on each side of the front steps, maybe you can see them in the low-quality picture below.



These slopes were immediately interesting to all the children. First they were walking up them, lying on them and sliding down them. My friend came over and said "I love having kids here, no one has ever done this before." Now of course walking up some stone slopes is no ingenious move, but it does show how kids really do see things differently than adults. To me they were just stone slopes that held railings to go up the steps, I didn't think twice about them. To the kids they were much more.

After they had explored the steps with their own bodies they started building vehicles to race down the steps. Our friends had set up a "free stuff" table with things they did not want to move with, the kids saw these things as materials for building. Various stuffed animals raced down these slopes with drink stirrers as skis, cardboard boxes as sleds and even a perfume bottle as a "motor". No one told the kids to make up things to do with the free stuff, no one told them to race things down the slopes, in fact if we adults had been paying a little more attention we probably would have put a stop to it and said something like, that is not what the free table stuff is for, or don't play on those slopes you'll get hurt. Lucky for the kids the adults were engaged in conversation and just glad the kids were no longer knocking over the fruit salad and only paying occasional attention to what they were doing.

As a parent things like this happen all the time my kids find creative ways to play with things or do things but I am sad to say I so often shut them down as many of these ideas lead to that "M" word MESS. I so often try to stop the mess that I wonder if I miss the ingenuity and the contribution they can make to my life.

I wonder how this plays into a family learning adventure? How do we make space for mess so we can see the new ideas, so everyone can learn and everyone can contribute and everyone can play.

I wonder what would happen if we let kids play in research labs. Well... part of it I don't wonder, I know for sure... there would be a lot of broken test tubes, Bunsen burners ablaze and chemicals on the floor and probably in their eyes, hair and up their nose. I wonder, though, if Children are really allowed to contribute, if they could help lead us to answers we can't seem to solve. They have ways of looking at things we would just walk by, not notice and discount. They have ways of seeing things we don't even think are there and they ask questions we would never consider. It's messy and complicated but I wonder if we make more space for the contributions of children will that lead us on a family learning adventure.

  • What does life look like if we hang in there beyond the mess?
  • Have you ever hung in there beyond the mess and seen something cool with your children? Tell us your story.

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