When I take the boys out with me and there is a bit of waiting time for them, I often get the same comment from people, “They are great at using their imaginations, it’s lovely to see children playing like that.” I’m paraphrasing but that’s roughly it. The thing is every kid I know plays like that, they spend hours at it, inventing games, running around like maniacs, making cities out of furniture. You know, being kids.
We spend hours each week with our other homeschool friends and they are all the same, playing crazy games that only they understand while the parents sit and watch, chat, sort out bangs and scrapes etc. No intervention required. Yet everywhere we go, either when I’m alone with the boys or as part of one of our groups, people comment on how lovely it is to see the kids playing happily, enjoying life without a screen to keep them quiet.
So who are all these kids that aren’t playing? I know that we are a culture that is becoming more and more dependent on screens to keep our kids occupied but is it really getting that bad?
Stats Canada is saying that obesity in children is on the rise, linked to children leading a sedentary lifestyle. A recent CBC report talks about tv and screen use as a factor in obesity in children:
“Kids are playing video games, watching TV, not getting out and exercising. So all of these factors are kind of conspiring against kids despite our best efforts.”
And the organisation MediaSmarts cites a report stating that:
“Television is one of the most prevalent media influences in kids’ lives. According to the 2011 Active Healthy Kids Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Canadian youth ages 6-19 average about six hours of screen time per day, with TV programs (watched on a variety of different screens) accounting for much of this time. ”
I literally have no concept of how a child could be watching a screen for 6 hours every day but even if these statistics take into account computer use for school work and research, that is still a whole heap of time spent staring at a screen. While I’m happy to use the computer as a tool and have some tv time (in moderation) for recreation, it most certainly should not replace all of the other wonderful and creative activities that my children enjoy.
We recently cut back on tv viewing and computer usage, we were noticing some negative impacts and with the summer here it just made sense to be outside or enjoying our own creativity. The long winter months make screen time a bit of a blessing but when the sun is shining there is so much more to do! So we cut it right out and saw a blossoming of creative play with our boys, less dependency and more making, playing and frankly more getting along with each other. It confirmed to us that screens really have to be kept in careful moderation in our family.
When we visited Cumberland Village last week it just confirmed to me that children really haven’t changed much over the years. It’s easy to overcomplicate things but they are the same fresh minded mud monsters they always have been and always will be. They love to run, play, learn new things and run and play a bit more. Fresh air, friends and some rope swings really do take care of business 9/10, plugging in not required.
As the kids played one of the volunteers at the museum commented on how nice it is to see the kids really enjoying the simple play area and all that the museum has to offer, they were so enthusiastic about the new learning, excited to be playing like crazy, no ennui, no affectations of being ‘bored’. He said it reminded him of his own childhood some 50 years ago. It seems natural to me that this should be so, but we live in a world in which a free and unscheduled child is a rare beast indeed.
And this is what I try to remind myself of when things aren’t going well and I get myself in a tangle. When I feel fried, or intimidated by the beautiful internet visions of wondrous activities I could be presenting to the boys on a daily basis, or just ready to hide behind the sofa and take a week long nap, I remind myself that kids are kids, that they are actually quite simple creatures in lots of ways. Good food, fresh air, something to do and somewhere to run. Someone to bring them along and someone to pick them up and dust them off when they fall; a soft lap to land on when things are tough and arms willing to let them dash off when things are good. It’s the way it’s always been.
So maybe we live in a bubble, maybe all of us raising our kids this way, with one foot in the mainstream world and one in a world of a our own creating, are hiding a little. Denying the reality of the world as it is. And that is just fine and dandy with me. There will be plenty of time for the boys to choose all that the world has to offer and it will be up to them what they pick. But when they look back on childhood they will have memories of outside games, summer swimming, tree climbing, wagon rides, book reading, bike riding, fruit picking, sibling bickering, and a million other moments I can’t even imagine.
Just like all the kids that have gone before them, like all the crazy boys who loved to run, jump, dive, scream, get mucky and get into mischief. Just like kids are meant to do, because kids haven’t changed, just the world they live in. What they need is the same as it ever was, as it ever will be.