Girls in their Adventurous Years are dependent on their bodies. Those bodies are helping them learn to kick a soccer ball, turn a cartwheel, and pedal a bike. They are spurring on their adventurousness. Within and without, your daughter's body is going through a period of slow, consistent growth during these years. Her squishy, chubby, adorable toddler body is making the gradual, long shift to the awkwardness of early adolescence. This affects her motor development, her memory, her emotions, and her femininity.
From six to eleven, girls are growing at an average of two to three inches per year. This is not lightning fast in terms of growth, but it is significant. Their muscles are, thankfully, growing right along with their bodies, and this muscle growth enables girls to use more of the gross motor skills that were lacking in the Discovery Years.
For a four-year-old to play tennis would be difficult. She can pick up balls and roll them. She could even throw them to her dad. But she would most likely not have the hand-eye coordination to hit a ball with a racket—nor would she have the strength. Eight-year-olds, however, can and do.
As we said before, these are the years of tennis lessons, gymnastics, soccer practice, and basketball. These are the years of dads running alongside their daughters' bikes as the training wheels come off. Girls are not only able but need to participate in activities to develop these gross motor skills. This helps to increase both their competence at various activities and their confidence in themselves.
A conversation with a nine-year-old often isn't much of a conversation. It is more like a soliloquy. The following is a typical car ride home for a mother and her nine-year-old daughter:
"Hi, honey, how was school?"
"Well, Johnny didn't do his homework again. The teacher told him, in front of all of us, that if he didn't bring his homework tomorrow he'd have to pull a card. Do you know what it means, to pull a card? It means he won't be able to go out for recess the next day. I'm glad I've never had to pull a card. Would you and Dad be mad if I did? It seems like girls don't really pull cards as much as boys do. But did you know that Caitlin pulled a card last week? It was because she was talking to Chelsea. They were talking about a birthday party they went to on Friday night. They get in trouble for that sometimes. I'm glad I don't get in trouble much. Are you mad because I forgot to clean up the brownies yesterday? I didn't mean to, and I promise I will help you clean up the kitchen today."
The soliloquy has to do with the brain development of girls in their Adventurous Years. By and large, their brains are mostly formed at this time. Girls' brains, however, look very different from boys' at this age. The predominant difference is in the area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is much larger in girls. The hippocampus controls memory ability and functioning. Because of the size of their hippocampus, girls can and often do remember every detail of their day. They remember things you often wish they'd forget, or at least maybe remember with a little more brevity.
Toddlers throw temper tantrums quite regularly. When a three-year-old can't wrestle the toy she wants away from her brother, she has a fit. In some ways, this is out of her control. Her brain is not yet developed in a way that enables her to regulate her emotions.
When she is eight, however, it is a different story. Not that eight-year-olds don't have temper tantrums — they most certainly do. But your eight-year-old daughter does have the capacity to control her emotions. The limbic system in her brain is much more developed than it was in her Discovery Years. This portion of her brain regulates sensory information and emotions. She is able to take in more information and categorize it.
Because of Winn-Dixie, My Girl, Madeleine, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little House on the Prairie — all of these books and movies are centered around girls in their Adventurous Years. And these girls are adventurous. They are not solely inside playing with dolls, although they also do that. They are riding bikes, climbing trees, hunting for mysterious creatures like Boo Radley, and doing their best to save their friends (who are often dogs).
Hormones are just beginning to enter the brains of girls in their Adventurous Years. In today's society, girls as young as eight are starting their periods, though this is not the norm. But the girls who do begin menstruation early will move more quickly into the next stage of development.
While boys in their six-to-eleven years are becoming more masculine, girls typically don't begin the journey into traditional femininity until the next stage. They are just as happy to play in the creek as they are to play with their dollhouse. And they do both. If a girl is going to be a tomboy, she is at the full stature of tomboyishness in her years from six to eleven. She will often wear bows in her hair as she fishes in the creek.
Melissa's mom, Margaret, told us about her group during her Adventurous Years, the "Trespassing Busters." She and her neighborhood girlfriends (many of whom included her five sisters) loved to play on the train trestles. They would wait for the trains to blow their horns, and then run down the trestle. They would also go inside the root cellar under the house and shout out every curse word they had ever heard, none of which were ever allowed in their strict home.
Margaret is one of the most feminine women we know. But she has also hung on to a bit of the adventurousness of her sixto-eleven years. And that would be our hope for all Adventurous-age girls. We hope that, as they trade climbing trees for catching boys, they will not completely leave behind the wildness and the sweetness of these years.
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