I’ve thought long and hard about what makes children feel good about themselves and the world they live in. I’ve also read a lot of books and articles on this topic because it is my passion, but instead of overloading you with research or information, I thought it would be best to share some general thoughts.

My first thought is that in order for children to feel confident, they must first feel competent. They have to experiment and test their limits. They have to fail so they can figure what success is. Things have to backfire and go wrong before they can accomplish something great. It’s a common transformational truth: WE LEARN MORE FROM FAILURE THAN SUCCESS. I say let’s teach children the truth and give it to them as soon as possible.

My second thought is that in order to fail, children need to play independent of their adult caregivers. If adults do everything for them, how and why would children learn to become resourceful adults? Which leads me to my third thought, and that is I’m concerned for the generation below me. Children today seem unmoved when people in my generation tell stories of how they roamed neighborhoods and played outside all day. They don’t know what it’s like to be unrestricted and not confined to a certain area, unusually a playground created by adults. Researchers have come up with a label for this generation of children that is not only being raised indoors, but also confined to smaller spaces.

The term is “containerized kids.” I would love nothing more than to set them free.

When I was young I climbed trees, made amazing forts in the woods, and rode my bike in all directions all day long arriving home just in time to sit down for dinner, cough, at the dinner table. When my friends and I constructed secret hideouts in the woods, we had to have been on somebody’s property, but the thought of trespassing never hindered our building campaigns. Thank you, by the way, I don’t know who. I can still see and hear your babbling brook and taste the sweet honeysuckle that beckoned us to indulge. It was from your sturdy oak trees I learned about the laws of physics long before I took the class. I forged friendships while foraging through your forest. May God bless you, and I mean it.

Richard Louv, the author of the book Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, checked in with the researchers. An indoor sedentary childhood is linked to mental health problems. On the other hand, studies show that exposure to nature may reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve cognitive skills.

Okay, everyone, let’s stop what we’re doing and take a walk. When you get back, you can read Louv’s list of what treehouses can teach us.

Ten Things Treehouses Teach Us

1. You learn the most common sizes of lumber will be 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood and 2” x 4” studs.
2. You learn that diagonal bracing takes place in corners.
3. You learn how to hinges work in a trap door.
4. You learn the difference between screws and nails.
5. You learn how pulleys work.
6. You learn framing strengthens an opening such as a door or window.
7. You learn how to slope a roof to shed rain.
8. You learn how to cut with a handsaw.
9. You learn about measurement and three-dimensional geometry.
10. You learn how the size of your body relates to the world, specifically the size of your arms and legs verses the diameter of the tree trunk, your height and length of your legs on ladder rungs, your reach, your girth verses the opening of the trapdoor, and the height from which you can safely jump without breaking any bones.

But there’s more than these token ten lessons. Children, if they’re lucky, will learn how it feels to bonk their head on a trap door and not run to an adult to “make it better.” Kids try really, really hard not to cry in front of their peers. They will be forced to tough it out because they can’t go looking for sympathy. Trying times will help our children develop character, and did I mention competency? For instance, little girls who play in the woods learn how to accurately identify poison ivy. Boys don’t learn about the wicked vine the same way girls do.

FILL IN THE BLANK WITH A FEW LESSONS YOU LEARNED PLAYING IN THE WOODS: ____________________________________________________________

Q: What happens once a fort is built?

A: The storytelling begins.

Children will claim their victories professing their conquests (competency). Perhaps they can boast about how they used scouting skills to find the perfect location. Moss only grows the north side of the tree, ya know. Once the fort has been settled, someone has to come up with the secret handshake and the secret knock to get in. What about the rules for what takes place inside the clubhouse? If this isn’t a proving ground for leadership training, I don’t know what is.

Ultimately, a moment arrives when the work is done and the workers will become bored, which is a good thing. Boredom is the ideal stimulus for change, for invention. This is when the collective creativity reaches its summit. The fort must have a purpose. I’d have to find and read my diaries to recall the precise details, but believe me, the forts I built had strict regulations, one of which was what snacks were preferred and what snacks were prohibited. Don’t leave home without at least a half dozen Twinkies, and for goodness sake, leave the celery sticks at home. I’ve since switched my position.

Adults, be mindful of traps that reduce our children’s chances for success. Next time you see a treehouse think of all the lessons learned there. Every treehouse represents a couple of competent, confident kids who most likely grew up to be resourceful, creative adults. Be intentional about playing outdoors but use caution. I hate to say it, but the world we live in today is a lot more dangerous than the one I grew up in forty years ago.

My motto: It’s not our responsibility as adults to pave the way for our children. It is, however, a good idea to provide a decent roadmap.

Jodie Randisi is the author of 201 Things to Do When Children Say I’M BORED! The Checklist and Journal for Busy Families. Build a Fort is Idea #59. To get her book or learn more about effective parenting, go to www.201thingstodo.com.

Author's Bio: 

Jodie Randisi, a professional speaker with hands-on experience and a commitment to excellence in both business and in the education of our youth, received her degree in special education from Millersville University. She has been an educator for over 25 years and small business owner for 15 years. As a certified Family Manager™ coach, Jodie works alongside individuals and families to help them create a balanced lifestyle and the home of their dreams—happy, simplified, and organized. Her latest book, 201 Things to Do When Children Say I’M BORED! The Checklist and Journal for Busy Families, has earned her the title “The Boredom Eraser and Family Fun Expert.” For more information go to 201thingstodo.com.