“Will you go out and harvest five lemons for our lemonade”, asks my mom. “Yes!” I reply. Off I go to harvest the lemons, when I get carried away following a butterfly and then proudly return with lemons and stories of where in the yard the butterfly led me!
When I was a young child my mom would often send me out on this type of an errand. A helpful, age appropriate task, that often would necessitate me going outside to do a task that helped the family. These errands brought me great pride as I helped our family, but also led me on grand adventures! My mom would not rush me back as she knew that I was having rich connective time with the lemon tree and everything on the way over. As I would return my mother would ask me questions: are there any lemon blossoms on the lemon tree yet? Did you see any birds, what did they sound like? Was it breezy?… In anticipation of these questions I would head out on these errands with great awareness. When I returned to my mom I was excited to share all that I discovered! These errands helped me to connect to the natural world and to boost my self confidence.
When we give our child truly helpful tasks that they are able to take pride in they are able to develop their autonomy, confidence, helpfulness, understanding of the beautiful tasks of daily living and connection with the world around them.
In cultures all over the world children have performed important tasks to help their families and communities, while the young child’s most important work is play – giving them these types of opportunities helps to develop helpful, confident beings, nature connected beings.
When giving your child an errand you must think about if the task is age appropriate and safe. For the young child the errands can begin within eyesight of a caregiver -ie. Will you pull the carrot tops off of these carrots? You can then begin sending your child on errands right outside the door, or where you can see them from a window.
For example: Will you bring this cup of sink water out to water the flowers? Will you go harvest some sour grass for our salad? They may stay out by the flowers for 15 minutes observing the butterflies, making a home for the snails and watering the flowers. If you have older children your young child can do ‘errands’ with their older sibling – ie. will you go take the compost out and turn it.
Some of these errands may be completed more ‘efficiently’ by an adult, and may lead to water spilling on the floor… but take a moment and remember the importance of these errands for your child’s development – and it is also one less thing that you need to do, and isn’t it nice to have some help!
Many of us have heard stories of the archetypal grandmother sending her grandchild off to do an errand – in many of these stories you can get a sense that the grandmother is sneakily providing an invitation to go out into nature. “Will you go out and harvest some rosemary for dinner?” Grandmother may say. As the child goes out, grandmother may peek out the window with a grin as the child chases lizards and turns over rocks to find bugs. When we have errands that send our children outside, nature will draw our children in. The butterfly we spot as we walk over to the rosemary patch may lead us over into the other section of the yard where we find a snail that leads us to a rock and a beetle that leads us to … These become valuable moments where our children are able to connect to nature and be independent – even if we secretly can see them out of the window the entire time.
At Chickadees and Woolly Bears we often have ‘errands’ – oak trees that need to be watered, rocks collected to create protection for the new plants coming up, mustard collected to share for snack, tea plants harvested for tea time, tarps that need to be hung before the rain… These errands are giving children leadership skills and connective tools while providing an important service to the land we play on and to the rest of the group.
Close your eyes and think back to when you were a child. What errands were you sent on? What did it feel like to help your family in this way? Did you ever get ‘distracted’ by nature and find yourself on an adventure? I invite you to send your child on an errand, find something that would be truly helpful and that does not have to be rushed and see what stories they return with.