February is all about celebrating love. We show our children LOVE in so many ways.
Snuggling with them before bed. Kissing them when they leave for school, and hugging them upon their return. Waking with them, then reassuring them through a bad dream. Holding their hand as you walk through the park, or across a busy street to ensure their safety. Preparing healthful foods to nourish their growing bodies.
I happen to believe that good design – where form meets function, where aesthetics and organization merge and inspiration invites wonder – is also an act of love for our children.
You see, the environment that surrounds our children – physical, emotional, spiritual – as well as the quality of experiences afforded in that environment; are the biggest influences for healthy growth and development. When looking at the architecture of the child’s brain, researchers have found that the richer the experiences we provide for our children (where they are stimulated but not distracted, where they are inspired but not overwhelmed), the better our children’s chances of forming many strong, healthy connections in their brains. (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University)
In my business designing inspiring spaces for kids, I have come to look at the environment we create as a gift to our kids. The effort we put into thoughtfully preparing the materials, experiences and surroundings, is a direct reflection of how we view our children, and their learning. We are our children’s first teachers, and the message we send about their learning will live with them for a lifetime.
As I was reflecting in my BUJO (bullet journal), I made a list of the top five reasons I believe that an inspiring environment and the experiences within are the most important gifts we can offer our children:
1. Our kids create lasting, joyful memories.
When I create a “provocation” for our kids – an invitation to play or to create – they are invited into a world of pretend play, creative problem solving and exploration. They learn new ways of doing things, and create beautiful memories along the way. These experiences, and the way they interact within them, will have profound influence on their thinking in the future. These hands-on, interactive experiences are how children build knowledge and make meaning.
2. A safe, beautiful space invites kids to explore, experiment, take risks and be themselves.
We want for our children to be creative and critical thinkers, and in order to cultivate those habits of mind, children need a safe space to do so. Creating a relaxed, yet inviting climate where our children feel empowered to make choices, to learn from their mistakes and to look at problems from different perspectives helps to encourage our kids to be creative problem-solvers and critical thinkers.
3. An inspiring space draws kids in, so they are excited to play, explore and learn.
A beautiful space is a statement of respect: respect for learning, for one another and for the property within. When materials, books and toys are carefully selected and thoughtfully organized and presented, children feel inspired to explore, to linger a while, to create, to investigate. They feel invited to participate, and excited that their interests, curiosities and pursuits are reflected in their space.
4. When we offer many tools, materials, toys, books and resources, our children’s thinking can be expressed in many “languages.” We view children as multi-literate, having “one hundred languages or more.”
A selection of carefully curated tools and materials, within reach, that they may independently access, gives our children the opportunity to express their thinking in new and exciting ways, and honours them as communicators, interpreters, creators, researchers and inventors. It also sends the message that we trust them and believe in their profound capabilities.
5. The child is at the centre.
The environment we create for our children is a direct reflection for how we view them. I have a deep respect for children, and believe that all children are strong, capable, creative, full of knowledge and potential, wonder and curiosity, and the space that I create for them reflects those beliefs.
We believe our children to be responsible, caring and competent, and therefore, materials and tools are within their reach. Labels encourage and remind children to take ownership and responsibility over clean up, thus engendering a sense of respect and pride in belongings and property.
We believe our kids to be imaginative, curious, creative full of wonder – natural plants are woven into landscape as props for storytelling and imaginary play: a jungle for toy dinosaurs and a lush garden for fairies. Play tents transform a tent into a fortress or castle, a house of their own, a hidden chamber…whatever they wish it to be. The perfect place to dream up stories or adventures.
A thoughtfully designed space that reflects the values, attitudes and beliefs we wish to foster in our children is one of the most significant gifts we can offer our children. Children have a strong connection and appreciation for good design. But the physical design is not enough. Through a hands-on, interactive and exploratory approach to learning, children learn to love to discover, to learn new things, to test their ideas and to create and to persevere. These are the habits of mind we want to foster in our children, and why a well-designed environment for your children is surely, an act of love.
If you live in Winnipeg or surrounding area, Alana of Brillante and Melissa of Growing Roots Play Therapy will be co-hosting a workshop called “Mindful Mamas’ Night Out: Clearing the Clutter while Living with Littles,” where we will be looking at mindfulness and intention in our environment and in ourselves. Cost is $49, and space is limited. Swag, tours, a make-and-take DIY project, goodies, bubbly, and good company amongst fellow mamas…Bring your bestie for a night of relaxation, recharging and easy-to-implement new ideas!
*This blog post was inspired by Jess McClendon, designer and owner of Glamour Nest, an interiors firm in Los Angeles. Jess has a very distinct style: full of colour and pattern and personality, and believes that your home is your heart: it should reflect who you are, where you’ve been, and what brings you true joy.
One of her blog posts, titled “Why Seasonal Decor is an Act of Love” got me thinking about how we decorate for the holidays. It was right around Halloween, and I had been putting off all the Halloween decorations, because truthfully…I didn’t feel like digging them all out, then packing them up again. But after reading her article, it made me realize how important this ritual is for families, for our children. She goes on to share a quote from one of my heroes, Brené Brown, “Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.” Decorating last year at Halloween, and all the other holidays and celebrations, was about making those moments significant for our children.
*Cover image art: Collaborative family canvas, Abby (age 2) and her mom
Images courtesy of B2 Photography and Sawmill Photography