Eavesdropping on Today’s Childhood

Love this! Anja Geelen sent this to me from NZ. She took a quote from my blog and attached the sign to her family's tent.

I was at the airport the other day on my way back from The Conference on the Value of Play, which made what happened all the more poignant.

A little girl no older than seven was telling her grandmother about all the activities she was involved in. She rattled them off like an executive rattles off meetings and conference calls: judo, dance, soccer, gymnastics and church activities.

Plus, she said as she rolled her beautiful green eyes, “I always have homework.

Her mother looked on with pride. Her grandmother looked apprehensive at best.

The Grass Stain Guru bit her tongue.

How, I wondered? How can this poor little girl keep up with all of that? She must be exhausted.

Why, I wondered? Why would her parents schedule this poor little thing within an inch of her life? And themselves? Somebody has to drive her to all of these activities.

When, I wondered? When does this bright-eyed little girl have time to be a kid?

Where, I wondered? Where did we go wrong as a society, sending the message that this is what childhood is supposed to be like? That this is what parenting is supposed to be like, a veritable Cruise Director?

At the airport that day I eavesdropped on society, and I didn’t like what I heard. At all.  I’m not sure why I was so surprised at what I heard. I’ve heard it ALL before, time and time again. I’ve written about it before…spoken about it.

But coming off that conference being surround by others who are play advocates and scholars, the reality of today’s children’s reality hit me like a ton of bricks. And I didn’t like it one bit.

Simply put, what passes for childhood today is simply not good enough. It’s not good for the children, the parents/families, the teachers, and society as a whole.

I found this video the other day. This, my friends — this is what childhood should look like.

So folks, where do we go from here? Let me know your thoughts.

And now if you will excuse me, there is a tree I need to go climb.

See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru 

Video credit: Right Where You Are Now from Craigmore Creations on Vimeo.

The Complex Issue of Children and Nature

Shoes. Again.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gdpaule

TGSG Note: Sometimes, posts are worth another visit. I think this is one of them. I hope you do too.

When people ask me what I write about — what I do — I often get strange looks. It appears that dedicating oneself to unstructured play and connecting children (and adults) with nature can be perceived as a frivolous thing. I get that. I mean, it is play, after all. People tend to associate play and exploration with fun. In turn, they associate fun with anything but serious.

But here’s the thing: This subject is anything but frivolous. In fact, I propose it is quite serious.

If you think about it, if you take the issue of today’s childhood — the well-documented and increasing gap between children and nature — and look at it in its entirety, it’s really quite an enormous issue. A societal issue requiring a societal response.

Here are just a few lenses we can use to look at the issue. Each of these is a post or series of posts in their own right, so these are simple “thought bubbles” for the moment. Consider:

Public Health: Childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, as is the medication of children for ADHD. Childhood and adolescent depression are also on the rise. Consider how spending time in nature, being active outdoors, playing, and having fun might impact these health problems and be part of a wellness and disease prevention paradigm.

Education (and reform): Mandatory recess. Establishing reasonable and thoughtful homework policies that impact not only the lives of students, but of educators, parents, and families. Protecting play-based learning in Kindergarten. On and on. We cannot expect kids to get outside and play if we do not provide opportunities for them to do so, or value those opportunities in the learning readiness of all students. Additionally, environmental education is a vital, viable win-win educational opportunity to enrich the school environment. Its hands-on, real-world approach is a powerful tool for engaging all learning styles.

Urban Planning: Planning community green-spaces, nature trails and community-connecting bike and walking paths. Creating safe walking routes to school. Sidewalks in neighborhoods. Traffic patterns. You name it — urban planners have a great power to create and refit healthy communities that foster time outdoors.

Social Justice: How are poor areas impacted in greater ways? Is it safe to go outside some places? What can be done about that?  In areas heavily populated by recent immigrants with a different, and often more deep connection to the land, how are we engaging them in programs and efforts? What could we do better? What do they need?

Conservation: Without a connection to nature, what will the next generation do? One cannot protect what they do not know. Who will take the jobs of the people retiring  in the conservation field, if kids grow up with no interest or connection? Who will vote to protect land, species, etc.? Who will become members and donors of NGOs that work on conservation issues?

Quality of Life: This one is key. Time outdoors. Unplugged time. Time to make connections to the land, ourselves, our families, and our communities in more meaningful ways. Time to recharge our batteries. Time to simply be. Time for children to play, which is how they restore.

This time — this magic time of unplugging and connecting — is a powerful way to be a happier, healthier person. Doing so can help you be a better parent or mentor, a better employee or employer. A better you. How can society not be served by better versions of us all, young and old alike?

Steeped in awe and wonder, time spent playing and exploring the outdoors is indeed, quite fun. It is also a very important issue, and quite serious. It requires all of us to work together — professionals from a variety of disciplines, parents and grandparents, educators and caregivers, and concerned citizens.

I hope you will join me. We have lots of work to do. But luckily, much of this worthy work is, as it turns out, PLAY!

See you outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

An Apple a Day — Can’t Miss Video

Sometimes, things really need no introduction. This video speaks for itself.

See ya outside- The Grass Stain Guru

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