I hate to admit it, but sometimes I base my participation in any particular event on the invitation. Whatever fun times may be had, I am much more enticed when there is something exciting or lovely to attract my senses. It’s likely you feel the same way, and frankly I don’t blame you one bit. We’re that way with everything – decorating our homes, getting ready in the morning, dressing our children, even worship at church. We use these preparation times to give a warm, welcome invitation to what we are about to encounter.
Our children are no different. Especially when they are approached with a new experience. As moms, dads, or caregivers, we know that playing with play dough or getting messy with finger paints is amazing fun for a young child. But our children don’t know it. And they are skeptical. They’re likely thinking, “What in the world is this goopy, slimy, substance you want me to put my hands in? Are you crazy?!” And we smile and stick their hands right into the middle of it, telling them how much fun they’re having. All the while your baby is crying, pulling his hands away and holding them up in the air, unsure of how to handle the assault. This may sound a bit dramatic but it’s pretty much EXACTLY what happened in our home last Friday while introducing Noah to finger painting.
I was tired after being in the hospital and decided something new and fun for Noah to try would be the perfect way to cheer up our day. And I thought Chris would loved to be surprised with a brand-spankin’-new, first-time-ever, paint hand print by our cutie pie. So I set the table up with a big sheet of white paper, taped it down, got the paints set up, and pulled the highchair to the table. I stripped Noah down to his diaper for easy clean-up. Perfect. Noah LOVES getting messy and touching different textures. I pride myself on letting him discover uninhibited and knew that this new activity would be a hit. Or so it could have been. But being an over-excited and over-zealous mom, I thought I would do the hand prints first and then let Noah go wild. So I took his little hands and put them palm-down directly in the paint and mushed it all around for full coverage. Then I brought them to the paper and held them down against his will to make sure we got a full hand print. That was the moment of “what are you doing to me, crazy lady?!” Noah pulled his hands up, looked at them and was at a complete loss. He had absolutely no interest in playing with more paint, no-matter how many times I tried putting a single finger in the paint to encourage him. He grabbed his highchair, trying to get out of the torture trap, leaving messy blue and green paint all over the place. As quickly as I could I got him cleaned up enough to give him the freedom he was desperately desiring. My all-time fun plan bombed. Miserably. I didn’t save the paper with the first painting because, really, it wasn’t his first painting. It was me forcing his hands all over the place, all the while smiling, telling him about the textures and trying to convince him that this was the best thing ever.
I didn’t consider the invitation. The way you entice your child to want to delve into a new, wonderful adventure. After I finished cleaning the dining area up, all I could think was that I’m sure if I had just placed the paints in front of him, Noah would have tentatively stuck a finger in the paint, looked at it for a while, then he would have tried it again. And again and again. And he probably would have touched the paper and through self-discovery realized that he could leave fun marks and colors all over the place. Joy would have been ours.
“Play at Home Mom,” a blog with TONS of great, creative ideas for sensory exploration, uses the term “invitation” all of the time when introducing the new fun time they are going to have with their kids. I never truly considered this term or its implications until our finger painting ordeal. Until it made sense. This whole amazing world is a completely new experience to our children and we need to give them the opportunity to discover on their own and to encourage them to keep discovering. By setting a play time up with an attractive invitation we are telling our kids that they are safe and free to learn uninhibited. What a beautiful concept.
From now on I will do the same work to set up a fun learning environment, however I will also be more conscious to allow Noah to discover on his own, at his own pace. As he becomes comfortable with our new-found creations I will have the opportunity to come alongside and coach him on all of the wonderful things he is experiencing. Colors. Textures. Scents. Wonderful, new adventures. So similar to how the Lord invites us to discover His Word and as we do so, His Spirit teaches us discernment, wisdom, and allows us access to direction for our lives. As penned by Paul in Colossians 2:2-5, “My purpose is that they [the church] may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are an how firm your faith in Christ is.” Just as we delight to see our children recognize and discover the lovely world around them, growing and maturing, so the Lord delights to have us discover Him, becoming mature and grounded. I want to give Noah the same loving guidance and direction that my Father gives me.