Kissing the Dog; Encouraging Brave Explorers

As this child grows, it is my wish that he has a muddy childhood. I want to encourage his exploration, his wonder, and try not to worry at his daring. It is my job to give him an environment free of any serious dangers, but one that empowers creative learning and fosters his natural curiosity. 


Sometimes I stare at my now 9-month-old son, watching him discover some tidbit of his world. We should all take lessons in observation from babies this age. As he explores some small thing – perhaps the straw from mommy’s drink or the soft tag on his coat – he marvels at each detail. He wants to touch it, taste it, turn it over in his hands and look at it from every angle. For a straw or even a clean tag on clothing, this is well and good, but when you start introducing little ones to nature, things get tricky.

From the beginning, I have encouraged my son’s relationship with our border collie, Ranger. The dog is indifferent to the child who is useless to him until he can play or open a bag of food, but “dock” (Ronan’s pronunciation of “dog”) is the most heard word in our house these days. Merely suggesting we go find the dog can stop a crying fit, and often he wakes from a nap muttering “dock, dock, dock” and looking around for his furry friend.

As my child is learning about his environment through taste and touch, this can get gross with animals and parents may wonder if they should draw a line. Ronan wants to touch the dog, taste Ranger’s rope toy, share his food, and – most recently – kiss the dog’s nose (and be licked in return) with that open-mouthed ‘ahh-wa’ characteristic “kiss” of young babies.

It can also be dangerous. Luckily our dog patiently submits to the uncoordinated fingers that grope through his long fur, but some animals do not want to be touched (and can you blame them? Babies can be rough!). Even friendly animals can present a danger to small children if the animal (like our exuberant border collie) accidentally knocks down the child or injures their delicate baby skin with an over-eager paw.

It can be tempting to scoop up the daring explorer and censor his or her interactions to safe, soft, and sterile. 

Should we though?

Should I prevent my child from picking up the dog’s toy (Ranger is trying to encourage this small person to play fetch but Ronan hasn’t quite learned to throw yet!) on the chance – ok, likelihood – that he will put it up to his mouth? Or pick him up when he starts scooting towards the dog because Ranger’s paw might knock him down?

There must be a middle ground between helicopter parenting and a more laissez faire approach. This is where Montessori principles come in. Without over-simplifying the educational concept of Montessori (post coming soon on the tenants of Montessori. I will link -HERE- when it is published!), it can be briefly described as creating an environment in which the child may independently explore and learn. By applying this to my son’s insatiable curiosity, I allow him to touch, taste, tear, throw, drop, turn over, tap, clang, lick, and even kiss a wide variety of items. Basically, he reaches, I assess the situation for possible dangers and usually don’t interfere*** For our border collie, this means I have the dog lie down and I stroke his head, telling him he’s a good boy while Ronan stares in adoring wonder and the great beast in front of him. Often he scoots close, touches the dog’s fur,

The germaphobe in me keeps packets of hand wipes close by, but overriding my sanitary concerns is my wonder at this small person who doesn’t shy away from an animal three times his size or worry about the copious amounts of dog hair on his sweater, and just focuses on the textures, the sounds, and the fun offered by interacting with Boy’s Best Friend.

As this child grows, it is my wish that he has a muddy childhood. I want to encourage his exploration, his wonder, and try not to worry at his daring. It is my job to give him an environment free of any serious dangers, but one that empowers creative learning and fosters his natural curiosity.

Happy exploring, little ones. 🙂



***DISCLAIMER: This does NOT mean young children and infants should be allowed to investigate the wide world at will. Most environments are filled with dangers (just think of electrical cords, choking hazards, or stairs!) and that is why the FIRST STEP should always be to baby/child-proof the area. Interactions with animals should ALWAYS be supervised. This post is not encouraging negligence, merely suggesting it may be a good idea to let our little ones get their hands a bit dirty sometimes

Technically Balanced; finding nature in a tech-savvy world

As a millennial, an educator, and a mother, I am daily performing a delicate balancing act between the technology-saturated culture and the diminishing access to the natural world.

As a millennial, this feels normal. I spent the day, smartphone in hand, doing everything from email and social media to scheduling home repairs and paying bills. For me, the balance came in walking the few blocks to a local church this Sunday morning and enjoying the crunch of fall leaves under my feet. The break from the hazy norm of travel by car reminded me to stop. To be.

As a mother, I use technology to capture fleeting moments of discovery as I take photos of my son and call grandparents. At an early age my 8-month-old understood the wonder of a selfie and video calling. His balance today came in screen time with far-away relatives that was punctuated by our morning walk, watching squirrels, staring excitedly into large aquariums at the pet store, and petting a friendly puppy out with its owner (and, yes, we always ask before petting strange dogs – even young ones).

Author and culture commentator Andy Crouch writes at length on the importance of maintaining a healthy exposure to technology. In The Tech Wise Family, he offers guidance for parents wishing to monitor or control their children’s media exposure. Crouch likens such experiences to a vaccine. By allowing children cultivated media time, they become inoculated against oversaturation as they develop the ability to self-regulate and balance technology with reality. For Crouch, the concern isn’t exclusively the loss of nature but is rather the danger of the faux reality of an increasingly virtual world. 🌎

To a slightly different end, Richard Louv diagnoses the coming generation with “nature deficient disorder”. His studies with young children reveal a startling lack of exposure to the natural world, despite increasing emphasis on the sciences. As an educator, I understand the importance of STEM education, but I am wary that tech education may be at the cost of children’s curiosity for nature. Louv’s Last Child in the Woods predicts the coming generation will have a markedly different experience with nature than even millennials (most millennials can still remember a time before cell phones, a foreign concept for our children).

A child’s early education shapes their whole being, hence the urgency of this topic. If teachers and parents do not take action to reintegrate their children’s education with nature, we are facing the possibility of a future that is so absorbed in their personal screens that they lose valuable social, investigative, and observation skills. To reduce a child’s exposure to nature to that depicted on television is to rob them of the majesty of the world that is ever-shrinking in the shadow of an LCD screen.



Editor’s Note: Wild & Free Childhood contributors may review and discuss a topic and related books. This does not indicate an affiliation or endorsement of or with any books, authors or companies discussed in these articles.

This post was written by contributor Rebecca M. in October 2017.