Defining a Natural Childhood


I’ve been leading our service through a new action research project.  I could see them all rolling their eyes before we started…… “another one”!  But the fact is, this one feels different….. it feels special…… after many times leading this process – this feels like THE one, not just another…..

Doing an action research under the banner of “Standing up for a Natural Childhood” is almost daunting.  It’s everything I want my career in early childhood to speak to.  So many roads and pathways….. I have a feeling this might go on for years.  But what it needs to do, is to have a place to start.  And part of that for me, is thinking what defines the term “Natural Childhood”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines natural as:

  • Existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.
  • In accordance with the nature of, or circumstances surrounding, someone or something.
  • (Of a person) having an innate skill or quality.
  • (Of a skill or quality) coming instinctively to a person; innate.
  • (Of a person or their behaviour) relaxed and unaffected; spontaneous.
  • Entirely to be expected.
  • (Of law or justice) felt instinctively to be morally right and fair.

Add those things to “childhood” and by jingo!  I think that we just might be getting somewhere.

There are so many angles to this project.  Perhaps not angles, perhaps it’s more like one of those amazing swirling patterns…… the ones in which there is no defined separation…… it just floats around and pulls everything else in……. co-joining, overlapping, encompassing.  It truly is not going to have an end.

But I’m just thinking of the vision of a natural childhood right now.  I don’t think that children were ever meant to be crammed together in institutions…… separated by birth dates…… kept from siblings and younger or older peers……. pushed to be far more independent at times than they should have to be……… but at the same time, controlled to a much higher degree than what nature would have.
Unfortunately, because of the way our world has taken – children are taken out of their natural space.  Parents are working, and relying on other adults to care for them, in a range of different settings.  Once they reach school age, they are entrusting that care to schools.  So our children are being “institutionalised” – like it or not!


Working from this place, there is still some amazing visioning that can take place.  So our action research journey is going to take us closer and closer to this magical place.  A space where children of varying ages, along with the adults entrusted to provide care to them, can co-exist.  There is a rite of passage to becoming an adult.  And part of that rite, includes rights!  We have an amazing resource to inform the way we treat children.  It is call the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Many see the convention as a protection for those who are mistreated, or at risk, or underprivileged.  And it most certainly is all those things.  But it is also about children having a right to a childhood…..  growing into the world in the way they are designed to.

I see so many things wrong with the way we “educate” children.  And I KNOW that we can do it so much better.  Mostly, I wonder why we have to fight so hard to do that.  I hear Peter Gray saying in his book ‘Free to Learn’,  that in 50 years time, the way children are schooled and educated will be vastly different from today.  And I cry!  What about the generations of children who are lost in that 50 years?  What is stopping us from this change NOW?

There are little pockets all over the world…….. people who are pulling together for our children.  There are schools like Hudson Valley Sudbury School that are truly giving children the most amazing start in life.

The advantages to our children, in returning to a natural childhood……. to being connected and free in and with nature…… being able to learn and develop with the intrinsic wired hardware in their bodies and brains……. to being able to flow through the day with their own rhythms.

Who are we to think that we can turn our children into little robots, in a controlled linear way?  Each one of us is as unique as a snowflake.  Formed in our own uniquely beautiful way.  Free to be journeyed with the currents, and where they will take us.

What if we were to stop taking so much control?  What if instead we supported children in their childhood?  What if we let nature and nurture do their part?

In defining exactly what a natural childhood means, the first step in our project is the simplest, and yet the most difficult.  To step back and establish how we rethink the flow of our day, so that rather than be guided by the needs we perceive as adults, we are in absolute tune with children and their own natural rhythms.  The simplistic approach.

You may say that I’m a dreamer…… but I’m not the only one!


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
~Leonardo da Vinci