“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”
- Elizabeth Lawrence
In the last 20 years, we’ve gotten away from the garden that is — or should be — childhood. It’s been replaced by too much structure and too much screen time while play has been disappearing from backyards and schoolyards across the country.
Below you will find 10 thoughts on how we can work together to restore childhood to today’s landscape…and tomorrow’s.
1. You only get one childhood. It should be marked by as much awe and wonder as possible, and spent in supportive communities with plenty of time spent outdoors, just being a kid.
2. Play is at its best when it is child-directed and unplugged. We adults tend to muddle it up with too much structure, too many rules, and prescriptive outcomes. Electronic play takes much of the creativity out of the equation, as well as limiting the all important aspect of social interaction.
3. Givem’ a break! Kids need time to unwind, to play and run, and to decompress. I support recess in schools and a reduced homework load. Not only will it benefit kids’ physical and emotional health, but it will benefit them in terms of learning readiness.
4. You cannot bubble-wrap childhood. Kids fall down, knees get scraped, and sometimes worse. But kids also get back up again. They learn about consequences and to assess risk. They learn about how to interact with the world and learn their place in it, but only when they are allowed to experience it.
5. Screen time should be limited. TV, internet, video games, etc. You might be surprised at how much time you and your family actually spend in front of an electronic screen. It’s simply not just the quality of what kids are watching or playing, educational or otherwise, but the quantity.
6. It’s OK for kids to be “bored.” We seem to have gotten to a place where we think we have to entertain or have a schedule of activities for every minute. It’s important for children to learn to entertain themselves—to create games, to read, to draw, or to just daydream. Getting comfortable with the concept of silence or a bit of down time is an important lesson to learn.
7. Organized sports are great, but they do not count as play time or outdoor time. I know, some will take issue with this, and that’s OK. But truth is, sports are adult-directed, goal-oriented, and task-specific. While kids are getting fresh air and exercise, they are not getting the benefit of exploring their surroundings, free play, or connecting with the natural world.
8. Every child benefits from planting something and watching it grow. Whether it is helping tend the family garden, pots in a windowsill, a container garden, or a plot in a community or school garden. Dirt = good.
9. Adulthood comes all too soon. Don’t rush childhood. If your child’s schedule looks too hectic, rest assured it is. If you spend more time interacting with them in the car as you shuttle from activity to activity than in your backyard or favorite park, then it’s time to take a step back. Simplify, for both your sakes.
10. What children want more than anything is our time. It is more precious than any video game system, MP3 player, or expensive toy. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, mentor, aunt, or neighbor—making the time to interact with kids is priceless. Connect. Play. LIVE.
I would love to hear your thoughts, so please share them below in the comments section.