“Maria, what should I do now?” This is a question I hear quite often the first day of any DRC Workshop Week. Many kids don't quite believe me when I respond, “I am not going to tell you, at any point, what to do while you are at Deep Root Center. I will offer you suggestions, and provide you with a ton of supplies and materials as well as technical assistance (cutting the holes in boxes with the knife or holding your project while you apply more tape, etc), however, I will not provide you with point-blank detailed direction.”
Most kids, as mentioned, are incredulous when they hear this pronouncement and then they seem disconcerted. Many of these children are accustomed to a very tight schedule and they often don't have the luxury of deciding or choosing what to do --- next.
Some kids decide to test this philosophy out by sitting on the couch or floor staring into space or continually asking the same question in a multitude of ways, thinking I will give in and tell them what to do. To say that it is hard for some to hear that they are in charge, would be an understatement.
Others have an idea in mind but lack the confidence to tackle it on their own. “Can you make my boat, Maria?” “Would you please make the lines on this paper for me?” “Will you build me a _ _ _ _ with these Legos?” My task in these situations is to ask questions about what they really have in mind, listen carefully while they explain, and then offer suggestions on how they may get started. I have found, that as with most things, starting is the hardest part. Once they discover the power of creating something that they invented, it is literally quite addictive. By the second day, they ask for less hand-holding (show signs of disgust if I am not interpreting their vision quite the way they are describing it) and by the end of the week are generally able to take a project from concept to completion without any direct input from me (except for being the keeper of the sharp knives and painting supplies).
I honor and celebrate every step towards independence with each of these kids. The look on their faces every single time they have accomplished something on their very own is so precious and inspiring. The high – five is just the icing on the cake. Their inner sense of accomplishment goes so much farther than my words or gestures of praise.
This is the birth place for intrinsic motivation and the natural desire to be independent. A growing body of research supports my anecdotal evidence that free play and free exploration lead to personal discoveries that allow space for growth, learning, and, yes, maturity.
If a child (young children included) is allowed to have a generous chunk of unstructured, unscheduled, and undirected time every day, they will gain confidence in their abilities and will have a greater sense of who they really are separate from their family, peers, and other adults in their lives.
Trust is the key: the ability to let go and trust in yourself, trust in each other, and trust that kids innately know what they need to thrive. Because granting ourselves and others the awe-inspiring and empowering gift of becoming intimately acquainted with the person deep inside, offers a lifetime of ongoing personal learning opportunities and fulfillment.