Imagine you land on a distant planet, which is going to be your home for the rest of your life. The planet is very different from earth and nothing on that planet resembles anything that you’ve seen on earth. The air smells different, the water looks peculiar, the food tastes unique, everything you touch has a different feel to it and the land looks like nothing you’ve ever seen on earth.
How would you make sense of everything around you?
You would go around, explore the planet, touch things to see how they feel, taste some things to see if they are edible, stop to look at all that is around you, try to understand the sounds in the environment and take in the various smells that you may encounter. As you explore this planet, you begin to make lots of discoveries.
One day, you encounter a bunch of aliens. Now, would you like these aliens to stop you from exploring their planet? Or would you rather that they permit you to explore and probably even encourage you to explore? Of course, you would also hope that they would stop you when you are about to enter unsafe territory.
Now, come back to planet earth.
The child is the new entrant to this planet, this world that is completely alien to him, HE is the explorer and WE are the aliens. So, would the child rather have us stopping him at every step or would he prefer having the freedom to explore?
When very young children touch a stone, smell a flower, stop to watch a dog, listen intently to the sound of an aeroplane or try to taste things that are not even edible, they are NOT doing it to be naughty or to trouble you. That is their way of exploring the world around them. They understand the world by exploring it through their all their senses. That is why they are always on the move and cannot sit still in one place as mere spectators.
The urge to explore seems particularly strong at a tender age. That is why when adults try to stop them, they get a negative response from them. That is because the child does not want anyone interfering in his exploration. They are also labelled as hyper or stubborn by the adult community when they refuse to stop doing the things they are asked to. Once again, young children are not on the move to be stubborn or hyper. When you understand that this need to explore is part of their nature at that stage of development, you step back and learn to relax. You embrace their learning and their journey.
As adults, while we certainly are responsible for their safety (just as the aliens would be while we explore unsafe territory), let us not become so protective as to stop them at every step. When a young child wants to explore something in this world, let him have the freedom to do it, while we keep a gentle watch. Let him experience the beauty of this fabulous world through sensory exploration!