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Eight Ways to Build Your “Exploration” Plan

by John Trent, PhD

Fearless Exploration may not be something you typically think a lot about. But like so many other things, having a plan can help you build this important element of RI into your child’s life – as well as yours! That said, here’s a helpful starting point outline you can adopt to begin thinking about “exploration” more purposefully. It starts right in your home and moves outwards, helping you to set goals by making a “wish list” of things that enable your family to “fearlessly explore” their world!

Here’s one suggestion as we get started. Get a small plastic recipe box that fits 3 X 5 cards. Then make a section divider for each of these 8 ways of exploring your list. We’ll share some examples here, but as you talk with friends or run across ideas online or come up with your own ideas, you can add 3 X 5 cards with more ideas in each category.

1) It’s begins at Home

Especially when they’re younger, exploration begins inside our own home, then generally moves outside to the front or back yards as they get older.

Amazingly, “Backyard scavenger hunts” are springing up all over the internet and Facebook as newly discovered summer favorites. Even when the weather outside isn’t so good, you can still build out a “rainy day” plan for exploring the “great indoors” inside your house by adding things like fort-making and indoor scavenger hunts as well. Once the weather clears, kids can explore even small things outside that most people don’t think about. Like where that ant trail goes in your front yard or trying to pick up two “exactly the same” leaves as a way of seeing God’s handiwork. Your home is a great place to first talk and share with your child as you – along with secure attachment – encourage them to explore freely and fearlessly.

2) Own your Block

Praise the Lord for strollers! And for bicycles and scooters as your kids get older. We highly encourage you to consider regular walks or rides as a family. It’s a fun way to get exercise and build emotional bonding. But it’s also a great way for you to model “exploring” to your children.

As you navigate around your block, if it’s like ours, most houses pretty much have the same shrubs and trees and cars parked in front. But almost always, if you’re encouraging exploration and stay alert, you or your children will eventually notice new and different things. It could be a shiny new quarter you find right in front of you on the ground. Or maybe noticing a neighbor’s new car. It could be workers giving one house a new paint job or others installing a new roof while you and your family try to figure out how they’re getting it done. Or maybe you look on as a neighbor’s driveway is getting replaced and you begin trying to figure out why the first driveway didn’t last or why the concrete has to be so thick in the new one. If we’ll open our eyes and talk with our children about what we see going on around us, there’s an amazing number of new things to be found in just everyday exploration walks.

Now you’re ready to expand from exploring what you commonly see on your block, to begin teaching your children about exploring more places and people around them!

3) From your block to exploring your Neighborhood

Chances are, unless you live in the country, there are stores and other important buildings close to you in your neighborhood – all of which make great exploration places. Like a Fire Station where you can take cookies and learn all about what they do. Or perhaps there’s a friendly dry cleaner’s shop where the owner would love to take time explaining their machines or processes. Or a local shipping place – where your kids can see what it takes to get a package shipped or mailed to someplace on the other side of the globe.

Our motto when our kids were young was “Never do an errand alone.” Meaning, there’s so many things to “explore” just by taking your children along (preferably without digital devices) on neighborhood errands. Yes, that means it will likely take longer. But by bringing them along and stopping in these local places, you and they not only get to meet new people and learn “what” they do, you’re also modeling and showing your children how to do relationships – let alone getting your errands done! They see you introducing yourself to people, asking them questions, showing interest in what they do, and more. All of these are things your child needs to SEE happening so they can start doing it themselves. The more they do it, the more confidence they gain confidence in engaging with others.

4) What in your City that needs exploring?

From your home and your block, to other places all around your neighborhood, you have lots of opportunities to “explore” which doesn’t take special planning. It just requires you making time to integrate “exploring” into your everyday life.

For example, there’s likely that Farmer’s Market downtown. Or a fish market if you’re near the coast. That nursery that’s filled with plants and flowers. A public golf course you can visit. There’s no doubt you will meet people who are too busy to talk with you or your child. However, we bet you’ll be shocked to see just how many people are grateful to take a break from their norm and will love talking with your child about what they do!

Consider doing what a lot of families do, which is create a Four Seasons Bucket list. Almost every city has a website that includes apps and blogs listing great things to do that you can put on your list. Most things even have reviews you can read BEFORE you go exploring! For example, the “All Trails” app can be found in almost every city. You can even use the “kid friendly” or “Stroller friendly” filters to locate walking and hiking trails where you can take strollers or young children. Here in Phoenix where I live, there’s a popular “Phoenix with kids” blog where they rate everything from bounce parks to actual parks and museums. “Mommy blogs” or “Mommy Instagram sites” are almost everywhere. All of these are great ways for you build your bucket list of places around you, or another city nearby.

Because most of our “city exploring” happened on weekends, we had to started planning our outings using the part of the app that lets you invite other families – which gives even more relational opportunities for your child to interact with others! Like the time we went with some friends to a “Highland Games” at a local city park where all of our families discovered bagpipes and kilts and got to experience “time travel” to Scotland after only a 30-minute drive.

5) Don’t miss out on what in your State that needs to be seen

Now that you’re familiar with tools and ways to “explore” things to do as a family in your city – push it out to those key things and places in your state that can be added to your “exploration” list! I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve met who live in Arizona but have never been to the Grand Canyon! Or those within an hour of the beach who have never explored any of the amazing beach towns with their children. Yes, some of these trips can take “vacation” time. But do a study on the history behind the things you’ll see. Perhaps even pick “one” place or thing each one wants to do when you get there. Just watching your kids experience the joy of anticipation makes taking the time to plan activities all worth it!

6) Setting a goal to see all (or at least) most of your Country

OK, we’re pushing far from home now. But we’re going to keep pushing you to prayerfully consider picking different STATES for you and your children to explore. Perhaps it’s going to see a relative. Or possibly visiting great places like Washington, DC, or Orlando. Even though it was more expensive, we would always try to choose at least one visit somewhere every year to a different state. And yes, it took planning and saving (which meant sacrificing other things). And yes, we had our share of melt downs when we did go on vacations. But, when you make “exploration” a real part of how you do family life, including crossing state lines for some well thought out exploring, you’ll be amazed by the lifelong family memories you’ll make and the amount of relational intelligence everyone in your family will gain.

7) There’s a big World out there

I know by this point you’ve gotten the idea that exploration can and should become part of your family’s DNA. And yes, we’re aware that with a family of 4 or 5, the idea of heading across the states, much less across the US border to Canada, Mexico, or even overseas can be costly. But looking for ways these types of trips can be less expensive just might help make them a reality. For example, maybe the family could tag along on a business trip. Staying with friends or family members living outside the US can help reduce costs. Look for discounts on three-day cruises. Involve the whole family by everyone pitching in chore money or money from extra jobs. Even if it takes a couple of years of working together for that trip to Hawaii, just imagine the memories and opportunities you’ll have for exploring and helping your children become more relationally intelligent.

8) Which leads to that Future Focused Service trip to serve others

As a part of your kids exploring their world as they grow older, you might even consider taking the family on a mission trip somewhere. Perhaps it begins close to home by helping serve meals at a soup kitchen over Thanksgiving. Or traveling across the State with your church to an area that needs help revitalizing the community and ministering to people who live there. Or going on a mission trip halfway across the world that opens you and your kid’s eyes to so many new things to explore and talk about. Then after you get home, helping your children realize just how grateful you are for all of God’s blessings you experience as a family!

There’s a great world out there – beginning inside your home and moving out across the world! So, be intentional at starting your exploration bucket list. When you do, we bet that every day, every season and every year, you’ll discover more places to explore and plan more ways to taking the time to cover them all.

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