We believe that children are resilient by nature and grow when they encounter challenges; that development requires struggle and risk; and that optimism is key to well-being.
Optimistic people have a strong expectation that things will turn out all right despite setbacks and frustrations; they think failures result from things that can be changed through effort. Psychologist Martin Seligman has argued that teaching children optimism is like inoculating them against depression. He would have enjoyed talking with four year old Kyle, who once said “My feet are like magnets to the wind, because I’m not falling.”
We understand that adults have a responsibility to keep children safe, but we also know that for almost any game children invent, a thinking adult can find a reason why it’s not safe; we believe that adults governed by the imagination of disaster diminish childhood and children. We support the development of optimism by encouraging children to take appropriate risks, to challenge themselves, and to persevere when they meet frustration. We are more likely to say “Pay attention” than to say “Be careful.”
We often borrow words attributed to Danish educators: “As safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.” And we love the way our favorite education blogger “Teacher Tom” re-frames risky play as “Safety Play” – because only through experience and practice do humans learn to safely navigate important and potentially dangerous endeavors like climbing, or wading in rivers, or working with fire, or speaking the truth of your feelings and standing up for what you believe.
When children are hesitant to try something new or seem anxious about risking failure, we “loan them confidence” so they are able to take another step and grow their own self-confidence in the process. And, in support of resilience and optimism, we demonstrate ways to interpret situations so that children emerge feeling empowered and energized rather than victimized and powerless. Without diminishing the real feelings and struggles in children’s lives, we offer them the possibility of lightening up; of learning and moving on; of “making the best of a bad situation.”
We urge children to be gentle with their own mistakes; “Oops!” and “Oh well!” and “Good thing you know how to fix that!” are standards in our working vocabulary. We show kids that they can ease the concern or anxiety they feel about a mistake by taking action to make things better — if you hurt someone, you can check in and offer to help; if you make a spill, find a broom a sweep it up; if you don’t like your drawing, by all means throw it away and get a fresh sheet of paper.
The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.