Friday, June 23, 2006

Summer boredom

When I was a kid the last day of school and the start of summer vacation meant freedom. Being out of school didn't matter so much to me, but all of that free time laid out before me and its lack of resitrictions meant the world. There were days at the beach and camping trips in Maine and Florida, Girl Scout camp and afternoons at the pool club. But most of the time there was nothing but my friends from the neighborhood and our imaginations stretched to fill a summer's day.

Complaining of boredom or not knowing "what to do" was not encouraged by my mother. She sent me "out to play" and wouldn't expect me home until the streetlights came on. It was that way with all of us kids. We played in the creek, built forts in the empty field down the street, rode our bicycles and roller-skated, and ran through everyone's backyard playing *army* and hide-and-seek. I can remember mixing up *potions* from the orange berries of the firethorn bush and the red yew berries that grew beside our house - thank heavens none of us were brave enough to eat any of it. If we ran out of things to do, we'd play cards in the *cave* beneath the spirea bushes.

I understand that we live in different times, but has the world changed so much in twenty years or is it just parent's perceptions that have changed? My co-workers all send their kids to camp. The sad reality is that most moms work and aren't home to supervise. But even among the families in my neighboorhood, where all the moms stay at home, kids still go to camp for most of the summer. When they are at home, very seldom do I see them running and playing and getting into mischief. Why is that? Do kids not know how to play anymore without an adult directing them?

In "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" (linked in sidebar) the author makes the assertion that time spent outdoors builds confidence in children and nurtures imagination and creativity. The greatest barrier that prevents parents from allowing their children the freedom to explore and play outdoors is fear. The author cites a study which found that between 1970 and 1990 the area around home that children were allowed to play in without direct parental supervision has shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Only 36% percent of kids are permitted to walk or bike to school on their own. Are our neighborhoods so unsafe that we can't allow kids that one small freedom? If we schedule every moment of a child's day with play dates, and dance practice, and homework can we be surprised that they don't know what to do with themselves otherwise?

I treasure the memories of those summer days and feel sorry for kids growing up surrounded by so much fear of strangers and crime. I have to believe that my early experiences in the *great outdoors* just outside my backyard must have done something to create the love of nature that I feel now. I wonder if kids still have special secret places that they go to when they need solitude.

14 comments:

debbie said...

hi laura

i love this post. you are right. maybe its me, but i am afraid to just let my kids run free as we did when we were little. i just read your ode to fathers day. just right on. those are great pictures.

deb

LauraHinNJ said...

Deb: Do you sense my *ranting* and show up like magic?

;-)

How's vacation? Be glad you missed this week.

bunnygirl said...

When I was growing up, not only did all of our parents urge us out the door to get some exercise and make new friends, but there weren't a whole lot of indoor distractions, anyway.

Oh, I would've been content to read all day, but for a kid who wasn't a reader, there wasn't much else. Only 3 TV channels, maybe a grainy fourth or fifth if you lived in a large urban area. No computers, video games or even movie videos (unless you were rich).

So we wanted to be outside!

But part of what made outdoors safe for us was that there were so many other kids out there. We looked out for each other.

So unless it becomes the norm again, I can understand why parents feel nervous about letting their kids roam.

MojoMan said...

Hey! Did you grow up in my neighborhood? What a wonderful description of your youth.

Most of my fondest childhood memories are of things I did alone or without adult supervision. It saddens me that we weren't able to allow our own kids that freedom.

I'd love to see a study that compares the activities of kids from families without TV with those that do have TV. Not only does TV keep kids indoors, it scares the hell out of the parents.

Sandy said...

I grew up in rural Oklahoma doing all sorts of things, mostly outdoors. Not only did we develop healthy bodies from all that outdoor time, but healthy imaginations. My brother, sister, and I would spend days roleplaying, after building a fort, camp or even space ship! Thank goodness for parents who said, "Go out and play".

robin andrea said...

I grew up in NJ and had the kind of childhood you describe having. When summer started, we spent most of the daylight hours playing outside. We lived in a neighborhood that had a lot of kids, and we played until the street lights came on (I hadn't remembered that until you mentioned it). I never went to camp. My parents bought a "doughboy" pool, put it up in the yard, and we played in it all summer long. There really wasn't a season that we didn't play outside. Snow forts were a very big thing in winter. It is a sad reality that kids just don't have the kind of inventive freedom we had when we were young.

Susan Gets Native said...

I grew up in rural Indiana, back in the 'ahem' 80's, and my mom didn't think twice about letting my brother and me run all over the place.
With my kids...I don't know about that. I researched the sexual predator websites and there are NINE pedophiles living within a 5-mile radius of our house. That's enough for me. (Plus there have been attempted abductions a few streets over)
But I am trying my best to make our yard a wilderness with cool places for kids to hide, etc. And I have to say taht my kids are out doing "woodsy" stuff more than any other kids on the block.
It's scarier now for parents, but I think that it just makes us work harder to find great things for the kids to do. If we have to drive 20 minutes to a good park, we do it.

Michelle Lewis said...

I don't think it's all TV or modern technological stuff. People are scared. My daughter will be 10 in 3 months and I have just this summer allowed her to ride her bike outside of the court. I am paranoid, I know. But so much can happen. And like a previous poster said, there aren't children all over the neighborhood looking out for one another like there used to be. If Morgan disappeared on a bike ride, no one would notice. I enjoyed being able to play outside, never had to check in, just went and played. It is sad that my daughter can only leave our yard under the strictest of guidelines, and when I do let her venture on her own, I get comments from neighbors like I am some awful parent letting my child run the streets. At the most she is allowed an hour on her own outside of the yard. Sad really. I think of that movie "Stand By Me", or "My Dog Skip" or the one with Demi Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, and Melanie Griffith - can't think of the title - but anyway, such trusting happy times. I wish life could be that way again, maybe it isn't so bad but I can't risk it when I see every day a child missing. Do you think the news makes us paranoid?

Susan Gets Native said...

Michelle:
The name of that movie is Now and Then. One of my favorites...and a good snapshot of the way it used to be.

e4 said...

One problem seems to be that the wild spaces are harder to find. Houses are cheek to jowel and landscapes are tidy and manicured. Where's a kid gonna hide? As nerdy as it sounds, I loved Boy Scout camp because there was a fair amount of time to wander where I pleased.

I think another big difference is that people don't know their neighbors any more. It's every man for himself and get out of my damn yard!

Great post. I hope my kids can have plenty of chances to wander.

TDharma said...

I have read that kids are just as safe now from stranger kidnappings and molestations...the parents are just more afraid because the focus of news stories tend to be on these topics. I had the same kind of childhood in the sixties in California -- and we would beg and plead to stay out past the turning on of the street-lights, and sometimes the answer would be "yes!" In for dinner and right back out again, running with the neighborhood kids. Like puppys, human children need to exercise until they drop.

Is it any wonder childhood obesity and diabetes are out of control in our country?

LauraHinNJ said...

It's interesting that you all mentioned the very topics that the author discusses in this book.

All valid points. I had hoped that someone out there, in some backwater place, would pipe in that it's still that way for kids nowadays in their part of the world. :-(

Personally, I think the world is just as dangerous as it has always been - it's just that we're more aware of it because the media chooses to focus on it. And I think that sheltering kids doesn't make them safer, it just makes them scared and less able to cope with *real* danger rather than imagined danger from the pedophile lurking around every corner.

And kids (and many adults) are just numb to the beauty and wonder that surround them. They don't see *the point* of nature - they don't get it.

Laura said...

I've been away from Blogger for a few days - but I can totally relate to these posts. I also grew up 'free' in the 50s and 60s; outside roaming the woods/ponds/fields and pretty much the only rule was be home before dark. We were additionally blessed by living in the country, with the nearest neighbor miles away.

Whether it's media hype or in some areas, a real danger, parents must realize that there ARE still safe areas to take kids - camps, parks, nature centers. Yes, it takes a little more effort to take them there instead of saying "go out and play" but its worth it. I work in environmental education - in young children, that spark of interest and curiosity in wilderness and wild things is still there. Its the older ones that probably weren't taken to wild areas and camps, that don't seem to care much. Scary.

madcapmum said...

I think it's a combination of things, percieved danger, fewer children, fewer of those children outside, more pressure on parents to entertain and schedule their kids into "enriching" programs. Let's here it for stringent boredom, says I. Boredom is the mother of imagination.