Endangered Childhood Revisited

TGSG Note:  Today is Memorial Day here in the United States — a day dedicated to thanking our veterans for all they have done. It’s also a holiday we use to welcome summer — to celebrate the coming of long days,  BBQs, days at the pool, and summer vacation. I have such amazing memories of summer vacation. Nothing big actually, but rather a million small things. Walking barefoot on the warm sidewalk, running through the sprinkler, wading in the creek, and eating orange popsicles on the back porch. Days turned into weeks without a passing thought of going inside before the street lights went on. Summer was a time when I was constantly in motion — body and imagination. I needed no directions. The only batteries required were for my flashlight.  America paints a very different picture  today of summer. That’s a real pity in my book. Below you will find my original TGSG post. Many of you joined the conversation already in progress. I wanted to take today — this unofficial celebration of summer and what that should mean — to revisit why I started this blog in the first place. Have a wonderful and safe holiday.

“Play is the work of children.” – Friedrich Froebel5661_image_charley_in_tree1

This often paraphrased quote is as true today as it was when Froebel, the Father of Kindergarten, uttered those words in the 1800s. I suspect Friedrich might be sorely disappointed in what goes on today.

Somewhere along the course of the last 30 years or so, childhood has changed drastically in America. What was once marked by kickball games, playing in the creek, hanging out with neighborhood friends, and boisterous laughter in backyards and neighborhood parks has been replaced. In its place is a hyper-scheduled, adult-paced existence that is leaving many children exhausted, stressed out, and unhappy.

Of course, there are numerous co-factors: parents’ schedules, increased screen time, safe access to green space, and countless others add up to childhood’s failing grade in today’s society. In 2007, UNICEF released a report ranking the state of children in 21 developed countries on a variety of factors, including happiness. The United States came in second-to-last on the list of “worst countries for kids.” How can this be? And, more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

Personally, I have had enough, so I am starting this blog: The Grass Stain Guru. As much it is about reconnecting to nature and the benefits of unstructured play, for me it’s about a much larger issue: Restoring childhood.

This isn’t about judgment or any larger agenda than this: I want us all to make time for unstructured play, to get a little dirty, to feel the sand between our toes and the sun on our face. I want childhood to be steeped in mud and covered in grass stains, the way many of us remember it. I want adults to have fun too, parents and nonparents alike! It’s as simple and as difficult as that. Let’s take childhood off the endangered species list, and save ourselves in the process.

As the national and global economy continue to struggle and we look as a nation to simplify the way we live and explore sustainable lifestyles, I challenge us all to look beyond the fiscal and environmental, and add happiness and genuine human connections to the list. Without those, nothing is truly sustainable. We cannot simply reconnect with nature, but we have to reconnect with ourselves and each other and teach today’s children to do the same.

So, who’s with me?! Let’s have some fun. Join me – let’s go play. I’ll race you to the forked tree in the park. We’ll have a picnic and chat. We’ll laugh and watch the clouds go by. Trust me – you’re going to LOVE it!

See you outside- The Grass Stain Guru

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