There is nothing more magical than being a parent of a young, exploring mover. The evolving interaction with their environment and finding how their movements fit and grow with their changing world reminds me of the introduction from the Woods et al. (2020) paper, “Wayfinding: How Ecological Perspectives of Navigating Dynamic Environments Can Enrich Our Understanding of the Learner and the Learning Process in Sport.” (for additional reading on Wayfinding, check out Rich’s blog from a few weeks ago here!)

Wayfinding is an activity that confronts us with the marvelous fact of being in the world, requiring us to look up and take notice, to cognitively and emotionally interact with our surroundings.” – M.R. O’Connor

Watching a young mover explore their world is a great reminder of the powerful learner-environment interaction. So what can we do as parents to help promote and facilitate this relationship?

Start with yourself.

Use your child’s creativity and imagination as a spark for you to do the same. As a parent, it’s actually a great reminder for yourself to explore and move in new, novel environments as much as possible. Not only is this healthy and rewarding for you, but as a parent, we are our children’s first role model, and they learn and discover by watching us challenge ourselves to learn and create in new environments. 

A parent who seeks to explore and move creatively and authentically in the world leads to an inspired child to do the same. If you don’t live a life of movement and creativity, and adaptability, it’s hard to expect your child to do the same. Be their inspiration and guide of how powerful wayfinding in our abundant world can be.

It’s their experience; give them space and autonomy.

I was sitting on a park bench watching my daughter play and watched as another set of parents tried to help their son play in the park. 

As he laid face down on a swing, they told him, “No, you sit on it like this.”

As he tried to climb up the slide, they told him, “We only go down slides.”

As he climbed a ladder, they reminded him, “To be careful.”

While all well-intentioned, the little boy grew frustrated and kept moving away from his parents in an attempt to play freely. One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to let go of the leash and allow young movers freedom.  You can’t tell children how to play, and ironically the more you try, the less likely children will want to play. Respect their autonomy and respect their decision to reject a suggestion from you. Young movers learn through experimenting and testing new things in their environment. They learn through mistakes and exposure. Don’t see errors or falling as negatives. They teach young movers about their boundaries and encourage more search and exploration of the movement space. The environment offers different opportunities for a young mover than they do for you. See this as a positive and encourage them to be creative and authentic in how they explore the world.  

Offer them a safe space to play and create. What does this look like? Sometimes all kids need is a basement and an old beat-up dryer.

Sid vs Max vs Dryer (Reebok Commercial)

Give Them Exposure To Many Different Environments.

How young movers explore and express themselves is directly related to the unique characteristics of their environment. So seek out new opportunities for them to explore new and novel spaces. Take them to new parks, hike different trails, use changes in weather as opportunities to explore how it changes the world, etc. Even as your young mover starts getting into sports, I’d encourage you to find settings outside of traditional sports to explore, such as rock climbing, skateboarding, parkour, gymnastics, sledding, etc. These “non-traditional” sports provide wonderful and unique opportunities to create skilled movement in varying environments. The following holds true for all of us but is even more prevalent in a young mover. 

Our individual form of life is constantly changing and evolving.

Your young mover is changing daily. They are changing with each new experience and environment they get to explore. They evolve and adapt with each new opportunity to interact with a novel environment, new people, and different parts of nature. Seek to explore something or somewhere new each week and watch your young mover’s love to move continually grow!

Interested in learning more about how to encourage exploration and discovery with your youngsters? Then we strongly suggest you check out our course Origins, aimed at guiding parents, teachers, and coaches through the process of youth development. Rich and I spend time going over the theory that underpins our methods and then dedicate a great deal of time showing you how these methods can be applied in a variety of situations. In total, there are 6 chapters of content, 4 interviews with youth coaches from around the world, a video library of example activities, and a 30-minute call with either Rich or myself. We strongly encourage you to check it out!  

Michael is the Education Manager at Emergence. In addition to developing and delivering education through our social media and online platforms, Michael also owns and operates his own performance facility called Building Better Athletes in Dubuque, IA. His facility serves athletes ranging from area youth all the way to professionals.