How happy my children were when they were young — and so was I (despite the mishaps and messes). It was just fun to watch them grow, make sense of their ever-expanding world, and find every discovery fascinating. Their brains were forming the important connections and growth that shape their lives. Reading to them was a part of every day, and that contributed to their happiness, too; broadening their world and their vocabulary.

What do children need? I thought about this with my own kids, and more deeply as I gained my Masters Degree in Education and taught middle school. What they need is love, safety (and a hand to catch them sometimes), creative materials, and less parental direction and more facilitation.

My youngest child had to learn everything through experience. She didn’t take advice well, or heed warnings based on her parents’ or siblings’ actions. To believe something was true, she had to test the waters. While it’s had its downsides, it has also made her more willing to take chances, to try new things, and to travel to interesting places.

Interestingly, as the fourth and last child she had less “interference” from her parents, but perhaps more from her siblings. Nevertheless, for her, concrete knowledge has been built on hands-on-learning.

This is what all children need: the time and space to experience the wonders around them. I always wince when a preschooler is deeply involved in building something, for instance, and is stopped because the schedule says it time for something else. Kids need time to work out their “theories” and develop knowledge. Jumping from one thing to another can be a frustrating experience for a child. (To avoid angry outbursts from young children, I’ve always given them a couple of warnings about how much longer they have to complete what they’re doing, so a transition is less “traumatic”. Documenting what they’ve built with a snapshot can assuage their disappointment when toys have to be put away.) As some parents know, Montessori classrooms allow children to work more at their own pace.

This is why they do some things over and over (ad nauseum). They are testing the laws of gravity or balance, the properties of shapes, cause and effect, reactions of adults and other children, and their brains begin to absorb certain truths as they proceed along their learning path (which, while predictable, can be different for each child). As they learn and experience more, they adjust what the brain takes as “truth” and their concepts broaden and change.

They need parents and teachers for some things — mostly love, hugs, encouragement, help when they need it, and an adult playmate now and then to interact and laugh with them. When they feel loved and cared for, they are more willing to experiment and take (hopefully little) risks. Obviously they need to be kept out of harms way — there’s no reason for them to know that they can’t jump off the dining room table without breaking a leg; they will learn those principles as they begin climbing on and off chairs, and stairs, and outside steps. They’re not great at spatial awareness! It will take a few bumps and bruises to get a handle on that.

Mostly childhood need to be happy and worry free (they react when the adults in their lives argue and disagree). There will be tears, but they are forgotten faster than the lessons learned. They need freedom to play alone or with others without being constantly corrected or having things done for them. They’ll learn — that’s what they’re programmed to do, and they will develop with more confidence and assurance when they’ve done it all by themselves.