It's easy as parents to lead the way, show children how to do things, and step in when your child is struggling with a task. How often do you let your kids solve the problem on their own, even if it involves some whining, many "I can't do it!" cries, and maybe even some real tears? Probably not often because we don't like to see our kids struggle, and that's totally normal!
But, there are benefits to letting children figure things out on their own and lead the way on every day adventures (as hard as that may be sometimes!).
1. It helps you see things from your kids' perspective.
When you stand back and let kids lead the way, you'll see what interests them, what they shy away from, and how they see the world. When we are constantly out front leading the way, we miss some of that, and force our idea of the "right way" onto our children.
2. It gives your children an opportunity to make their own choices.
So much of our young children's days are dictated by their parents, teachers, daycare providers and other people. We are trying to teach them how to function in the world, but imagine how frustrating it would be to be told what to do all day, and not being able to make many of your own decisions. By letting kids lead, we are giving them some freedom to decide what they want to do.
3. It allows them to take risks and learn boundaries.
When kids are in charge (within reason of course), it gives them an opportunity to learn their boundaries, take some risks and face the potential consequences.
Let's say you come across a big branch across the path while on a walk. Usually you would help your child over it or make them go around it and might add in "Be careful! That looks dangerous!" But what if you stood back and let your child decide what to do? Maybe they'd decide to climb over it themselves, which might make you uncomfortable, but you realize that it's generally a safe choice. How do you imagine your child would feel when they conquer getting over the branch on their own? Proud. Happy. Excited. Try it!
4. It builds creativity.
When kids aren't prescribed activities or told how to do things, it helps them problem solve on their own and get creative with their solutions. A stick can become a wand, a sword or a horse, and those tangled up trees can become a scary forest. Being bored is also good for kids, but it's usually harder for parents to deal with. Being bored means they have to get creative with how to entertain themselves without a screen or specific toys to play with.
One organization that is leading the way in child-led adventure is Free Forest School (FFS). FFS "ignites children’s innate capacity to learn through unstructured play in nature, fostering healthy development and nurturing the next generation of creative thinkers, collaborative leaders and environmental stewards." It's a volunteer-led activity that is held across the nation in hundreds of locations where kids and parents explore, learn and grow in nature. Each meet-up is child-led, and parents are encouraged to step back and let their children explore as they feel comfortable.
Muddy, wet and happy!
In the few times we've attended, my kids have left muddy, wet and beaming from ear to ear because of the fun they had. They've had to ride home in just their diaper and underwear after an impromptu swim, too!
Essentially, it boils down to this quote: Keeping children too busy and too structured is proving detrimental to their development in the long run. Their creativity, which is an important skill unlocks the gate for many valuable skills and traits children will need in adulthood, will be hindered. [source]
For more information on child-led activities, check out this article.