Before I begin my post, I’m going to put a disclaimer on it. I obviously don’t have any children, so I understand that a lot of my opinions are based on inexperience and ignorance.
Saturday night, J hosted a program called “Where do the children play?” for his town. He spoke eloquently on the importance of outside play for children, then showed a PBS documentary (that hasn’t even been released to the public) called “Where do the Children Play?” Lastly, he brought a speaker who is an environmental educator from the NH Department of Fish and Game.
This was the second time I watched the film and it again impacted me. During the past 25 years, childhood has developed a new meaning. Children seem to have a serious disconnect with nature. They think outside play means organized sports or driving to a local park to play. Not that those are bad things, but for most of us, outside play in our own childhood merely meant going outside in our yards and making do with sticks and rocks. Getting dirty. Hurrying home after school to finish our homework so we can squeeze in a couple of hours to play outside. Hopscotch. Ghosts in the Graveyard. Freeze Tag. Red Light, Green Light. Making forts. Climbing trees.
Children today are wired. When asked in a recent survey to name their favorite games, less than 5 percent cited Hide and Seek. Less than 1 percent named Red Rover. Don’t get me wrong, I find it amazing that many children can probably navigate or program a computer better than I can. And they also probably know more about what’s going on in the world than I do. But in my opinion, children are missing out. This generation will grow up lacking the creativity we all developed in our childhood. Outside play allows children to use all their senses and experience all emotions like fear, pride and confidence. Inside play harbors loneliness. And don’t even get me started on the issue of childhood obesity. Yes, there’s a whole other problem with school lunches and portion control, but I believe a larger part of the growing condition lies in the deficit of physical activity among children.
I had a friend who lives in a city and told me a story about taking her 4-year-old outside for a walk in the park. The child said, “what is this?” The mother said, “what?” The child pointed to the trees, grass, rocks, etc. “Um, this is nature.”
I understand why parents don’t let kids outside to just explore and be free as much anymore. “It’s not safe,” they say. I’m not parent, so I can’t judge, but statistics do show that most sexual abuse cases and violent crimes happen within the “home,” by a relative, parent, or someone familiar with the family. Also, people are so darn busy these days. There are too many choices of things to do. And in order to raise a well-rounded citizen, parents tend to enroll kids in music lessons, organized sports and volunteering. These are all very good things (especially if you want your child to get into the best college even though the time for that is far away), but that doesn’t leave much time for simple play.
So I’m saying forget the “leave no child behind” campaign, we need to step up efforts in the “leave no child inside” campaign (it’s actually a real thing). I’m sorry if I ruffled a few feathers here, but leave a comment about what you think. Maybe tell me and others about your favorite childhood memory of outside play. Or yell at me and tell me I have no idea what it’s like to raise a child in this society. All I’m saying is let the children play …
And with that, here are some of my favorite childhood memories of outside play.
*Roaming the woods and getting poison ivy, poison zumac and poison oak. Once, I had it on my eyelids and the kids at school called me “puffy eyes.”
*Having all the neighborhood kids outside to play games. They were probably about 7-10 of us that all played together.
*Making leave piles and mazes with the leaves to play in (Big on Lotto used to rake them that way for us)
*Climbing trees, especially the one in my front yard that is no longer there (boohoo)
*Walking around the block, which was probably only 1/4 mile long (Short on Coffee was pretty protective and I was only allowed to go in one direction and go halfway until I was a certain age)
*Walking down to the Gut Wines to get sugar sticks (not sure what the real name of the store was, but that’s what we called it. It later became IGA.) Same situation, I was only allowed to go down a certain road until I was a certain age.
*Walking down to the beach and playing at the beach. Loved the lake with all its seaweed!!! Going off the diving board (when I was old enough) was my favorite.
*Ice skating on the pond or the lake (Short on Coffee was eerie about the lake)
*Washing cars. I know this sounds like child labor, but I have fond memories of washing cars with Big on Lotto and QuickQuestion.