Daily Archives: July 21, 2010

Pulling the Covers Off Blanket Statements

Bethe always gets me thinking. That’s what I love about TGSG and the information she shares. She makes me go: “Hmmmm . . . “  As with most issues, it turns out nature play is not black and white. I am not an educator or policymaker. I’m just a mom who knows the value of offering play opportunities to her kids.  I like to think I represent the audience educators and policymakers are trying to reach. It’s kinda cool that I can see issues from both sides, since I also run a website where I often share our play ideas. (And, yes, I’m from California so I say things like “cool” and “awesome.”)

Let’s take a look at few blanket statements – just to get those wheels turning – maybe you can see where you come out on the wide spectrum of reaction to these issues.

Technology has no place outdoors.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, offers an alternate view in his post called “Techno-Naturalists.” He argues that “any gadget can distract from nature.” If you let it. He uses photography as an example. You can get caught up in all the settings and forget to enjoy what’s around you.

There is actually a photo of me floating around with iPhone in hand at a park. I’m showing a 3 year old what a Phoebe looks like and sharing its birdsong. It took maybe 1 minute and I think he will most likely remember the name of the bird now and keep an eye out for it. The gadget went immediately back in my pocket, forgotten for the rest of the playdate.

Helicopter parents are bad.

With all of the talk about giving kids leverage and freedom from a very early age, you start to feel guilty when you help your kids. In the range from helicopter to neglect — I probably fall a bit more toward helicopter. In fact, I call myself a hummingbird parent. I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).

However, I ask myself “why?” all the time. Why do I still need to have them in sight? Why don’t I let them go to the park on their own? Why don’t I truly allow them to be 100%  Free Range Kids, even though I was allowed to run wild as a kid?

  • I hate to admit it, but fear and anxiety are definitely factors. But not in the bad-people- will-get-them sense. It’s more like the something-will-happen-I-could-have-prevented-if-I were-there sense.
  • In my neighborhood, kids play without close supervision. However, sending them to the park on their own is socially unacceptable at their age. You can bet other moms would call me on it. When a lone kid shows up at the playground, everyone pokes up their head to spot the parent. Keeping my distance is my sneaky way of battling the social norm while still conforming.

Common sense needs to rule on this issue. Are these bad parents for caring so deeply about their kids? Certainly not. Will their children be scarred for life? No. Should parents back off and let their kids take reasonable risks? Yes!

I’m always conscious of the physical distance between me and my kids . . . and I just keep taking steps back as they get older. I think the speed of the retreat is really up to the particular parent and their own comfort level.

Playgrounds are not nature.

I agree. Playgrounds are not nature. But . . . playgrounds get kids outdoors. Kids move on playgrounds. I would argue playgrounds are a bridge to nature. They still see birds and bugs. They feel the sunshine on their faces.

Any parent who’s taken their kid to a playground KNOWS their child gravitates toward the pile of rocks, the uneven logs, the tiny forest, or throwing rocks in the stream. The playground is merely a prop for imaginary games.

Playgrounds COULD be nature. I wish we didn’t have such a traditional view of playgrounds. I wish safety concerns and lawsuits didn’t dictate their design. My friend, Alex, explores the many whimsical shapes as humans design them on his Playgroundology blog. Others, like Arcady on Playscapes take a look at less commercial and more natural designs.

Kids outgrow playgrounds.

Really? They do? I hope not. But I hear it a lot. Parents tell me, “Of course, my kids are just getting out of the playground age.” Some are 5. Some are 8. Some are 10.

I STILL ride down slides with a big “Whoop!” and holler. In fact, there’s a particular senior in my neighborhood who takes a turn on the swings as part of her daily walk.

So where do these older kids go to be outside? In Southern California, I guess kids spend some time at the beach. It’s crazy to me that once children are actually old enough to go to the park on their own, there’s nothing there for them.

Hmmmm . . .

Photo credit: Kara-Noel Lawson

Michele points Orange County parents in the direction of local playgrounds on her Fun Orange County Parks blog. Then she dares them to explore more of the natural world around them. She blogs as Play Mom for OCFamily.com and started her own family nature club this year. You can follow their adventures at NaturePlayClub.com.

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