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Experiences and opportunities that present themselves to our children along their everyday paths can be numerous.  School (or club) athletics, the arts, and extra curriculars are activities that our kids do because they have an interest, their friends are doing them, or we are encouraging them to participate.  They are accessible.

As parents, these opportunities for our children feel within our realm of control.  We usually have access to the places and spaces where they occur and the people who manage them.  It’s still putting our children’s security, physical and mental health in the hands of others, but there is comfort in our ability to be involved.  We can watch the games, attend the performances, and volunteer our services.  We can also call the coach after a stressful game, email the director about casting, request a face-to-face meeting with the community leader of a club or organization.  These sorts of experiences have become more transparent and accessible as the cultural expectation of accountability within them grows.

Programs that we seek for (and with) our children outside of their home community can seem daunting.  We don’t have direct, physical access to the program environment, a connection to the organization, or know the people we are entrusting our children to.   We suddenly find ourselves shifting from the known to the unknown.  As scary as this sounds, it is precisely the shift we, and our children need to grow—as individuals and as family members.

Experiences that take us out of our ‘comfort zones’ are essential to our personal growth.  They test us in ways that demonstrate our social and emotional capacities, our strengths, challenges, and our potential.  For children crossing the bridge to adolescence  and adolescents crossing the bridge to adulthood, leaving home, taking risks, and stepping outside their comfort zones is critical to their development and understanding of themselves and others.

So, how do we choose the right experience for our child away from us?  How do we know it’s going to be the right experience for them?  We don’t always, but it helps to believe in some foundational aspects of the experience to narrow down the choices.

We need to believe in the place, the pedagogy, and the people.

For most of us, the first step in considering a personal growth experience for our child is recalling formative experiences of our own.  For example, if we had positive experiences on a sports team, a stage, a farm or at summer camp growing up, chances are, this will inform our process when choosing an experience for (and with) our children.

Whether our own formative experiences or those of trusted friends and family have cultivated this, we need to believe that the environment a program or experience takes place–the soccer pitch, the theater, the barn or the ‘great outdoors’ for example–has transformative powers.  Once we’ve narrowed the literal ‘playing field’ down, we can move forward in the process.

The next step is to explore the pedagogy of a program or experience and subscribe to it.   What is the fundamental belief of the experience?  Is it: athletic teams build skill and character?  Theater instills creativity and confidence?  Connection to the natural world inspires self-awareness?  Again, our formative experiences and those of our friends and family will inform this part of the process.  If the fundamental belief of the organization providing the experience is in alignment with a belief that you or your child shares, that’s a step in the right direction.

Finally, we need to understand the people who facilitate the program.  What is the path that led them to where they are, the work they do, and what are their fundamental beliefs?  The best way to understanding this is to research, reach out and connect.   Ultimately, we want to determine if the leadership and culture of the organization share principles and values that are important to you and your child.

Throughout the process of exploring opportunities for your children that stretch them to grow, you are building a step ladder of trust and a path to letting go.  This is the most difficult stage of the process as parents of children crossing bridges to adolescence and towards adulthood—letting go enough for them to have independent experiences, outside their home communities and families, that are essential to their development.

If you believe in the place, the pedagogy, and the people, let go. Trust in the process and be open to the experience.  Be confident that it will provide something for your child that you can’t, at a pivotal time in their lives.  Know that it will inspire you both to grow.

Jodi Browning