Most everyone loves to swing. Even adults. That's why we have hammocks and porch swings. They are associated with relaxation, rest, and contentment. Maybe that's why kids love to swing too. That and the amazing physical feeling of flying. Swings were always my play structure of choice. I could just concentrate on the movement, the sky, and wind around me. Except this one time when I took my daughter to the playground. There was a father there, pushing his daughter. He kept talking, asking her questions incessantly, and not even different ones. He didn't even realize that she wasn't even answering them. "What color's the sky. The sky is blue," over and over again in a dazed monotone voice, like a board parrot. It was hard not to tap him on the shoulder and tell him to kindly put a cork in it.
Like many parents, this father was only trying to "engage" his child. He couldn't see that she was already engaged, engaged in her wandering mind. All bodies need rest, to find places of non-movenment, non-thinking, without stimuli. Minds need it more. Not sleep, but a slightly more active state. A state of daydreaming. Children are very apt to find this state if we let them, but should we?
Turns out we should. When you see your child go into their own heads, instead of engaging with their physical, immediate surroundings or situations, resist the urge to snap them out of it and let them stay there. Cognitive researchers are finding more and more how important time spent in the wandering state is for creativity and innovation. Analytical thinking is important for problem solving, but it is also counteractive to inspiration.
A Forest Schools setting, being learner led and outdoors, allows for a child to follow their instincts to satisfy their developmental needs. Nature removes distractions and worries, opening a child's mind to receiving new concepts. A child sitting alone by a stream; a child circling the outskirts of the group; a child intently watching an insect crawl. All time well spent without intrusive comments or questions that bring them out of the wandering state of mind.
Einstein believed that linking ideas through a wandering mind is our only path to fresh ideas. It brings clarity and insight, awareness and wisdom. The wonder and amazement of a "Eureka!" moment is the brass ring all educators and parents chase, it encourages our children to learn more about the world, and to follow and actualize their hearts. A wandering mind is not a luxury, or an idle excuse. It does not mean a child can't focus or isn't paying attention. It's a necessity.
Maybe we will go to the park again sometime, and if Mr. "the sky is blue" is there, maybe I will tap him on the shoulder and tell him, "Hey, there is an empty swing over there."
Caroline Griesel holds a Bachelors in Zoology with Entomology focus from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has combined 7 years experience in education, including teaching children's English classes in Japan, and being a Para-professional in public schools. She also spent some time in Ecotourism, researching ecological relationships between ants and sea birds, and guiding kayak tours to the research site. She is currently working on a Level 3 Practitioner Certification from the Forest School Association in the UK. A childhood fishing and combing the beaches of Galveston, Texas inspired her to ensure a lifelong connection to nature and self-discovery through nature are possible for everyone. She is an amateur naturalist and adventurer, who loves curating her collection of rocks and minerals, stargazing, and bushcraft.