Consent- Raising Littles with Healthy Boundaries
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”- Brene Brown
Consent is a big word for asking for permission. As mentors and caregivers, we want children to learn how to get along with others and have healthy relationships. To have loving relationships and productive work- a wish we have for all our littles. In the past, science has thought that children needed to be about 10 years old to learn the concept of consent (telling others what kinds of touch we like or do not like and respecting other’s feelings about touch). But brain science has revealed that these concepts are best learned early, even as toddlers.
A big component in consent (communication about and respect for boundaries) is empathy. Empathy is being able to stand in another person’s shoes and care about their feelings. At Forest School, we practice the “Platinum Rule” instead of the “Golden Rule” and that is to “do unto others as THEY want done unto themselves.” Empathy learning occurs in the same parts of the brain as learning to speak and read. This actually makes a lot of sense. “Understanding what other people feel is done by reading facial expressions and body language. Also, communicating about emotions to let people know personal preferences and boundaries is similar to other kinds of communicating.”
So, now that we know that our little’s brains are ready to understand consent in the pre-school and elementary years, how can we teach this? At Forest School, we do this through modeling, games and storytelling. By modeling, we the mentors showcase what it looks like to say “no” with our words and with our bodies. We can help by by asking them if they want touch, such as hugs, waiting for their answer, and respecting their wishes about touch. In this way children will see not to take it personally when someone says no to touch. We also model what a verbal “yes” and a body movement “no” (backing up, crossing arms) might look like, as this helps our learners to hone in on the nuances of body language. We can do this through role-play and as we interact with other mentors and our learners.
Last week, we introduced the “STOP” game, as our learners aptly named it. We asked them to walk around (silly walk if they’d like) and 1 mentor would tap a learner on the shoulder. Once tapped, that learner would yell or simply state “STOP.” We would all freeze. A mentor would then check in with that learner and ask if they were ok. If the learner was indeed ok, they would give a thumbs up (body confirmation) and say “I’m ok” (verbal confirmation). Each learner has an opportunity to say “STOP”, to freeze the game and then to let us know that it was ok to continue, when they were ready. This is a fun and important game that we encourage you to bring home and let us know how it goes for you and your family.
We continued the “STOP” game as we crossed the road into our “home in the woods.” Our learners are beginning to master the art of crossing a busy street, with learners taking turns holding our stop sign, stopping traffic and guiding the other learners to “look left, look right, look left again.” They then ask,” “all clear?” and if so, motivate our group to “Let’s cross.” We always cross together as a group, not to leave anyone behind. Once across, we count our group to ensure we are all there and ready to move forward.
In the woods, our “STOP” game continued and when we heard someone say “STOP”, we all froze and checked in with the learner. The learners also made more natural seesaws, journaled in their hammocks, while others spent time simply looking up for periods of time in self contemplation. The colors of the woods were ablaze last week and a falling leaf and the beauty of the reds and oranges often stopped us (they were tie-dyed as our learners called them.) We listened to the crunch of the leaves under of feet and played in them, seeing if we could make them fly again.
We then worked together to build our first tree swing. We took turns trying our hand at throwing the rope up in the tree, wondering what kind of tree and branch would be most suitable to hold our weight and why and then wondering what might be the best angle to throw the rope. When one branch didn’t work, we moved to the next- having to move our water slide out of the way and climbing up a tree to secure the rope. Once secured, we each took turns swinging in the swing and pushing our friends, after asking if it was ok to do so. Each learner found their name in our wooden line cookies and waited patiently for their named to be called to swing next. In-between their turns on the swing, some learners took the time to secure the other ends of the rope and to practice making knots in the rope.
All in 2+ hours, our incredible learners practiced so much- consent, boundaries and patience- lifelong practices that will undoubtedly improve their relationships and quality of life. What a honor to witness and to share in their life art.
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