Mar 25, 2014

Unstructured. Unsupervised. Outdoor. Free.

Growing up, I was a "latch-key" kid and many of my best childhood memories are from those hours before my mom got home from work. This was my time to be a kid. Unstructured. Unsupervised. Outdoors. Free.
Their was a group of us on my street who all played together every afternoon. I don't know that I would say we were friends. In fact, these weren't the kids I hung out with at school recess. But we looked out for each other on the walk home from school. We built a fort on the empty lot three doors down from my house - and played their frequently until an older middle school kid took it over and exercised his rights as the biggest kid on the street. We would randomly ring the door bell of the retired couple at the end of the loop and knew that Grandma Gail always had fresh baked cookies. And Grandpa Goodrum would let us feed his koi and show us what he was working on in his shop. We had water gun fights. We pelted each other with water balloons. We played tag. We played sardines. We made up games that I don't think any of us understood the rules to. We would fish in the small pond on the golf course. We tried to climb the limestone wall down by the creek. We threw crab apples and watched them explode. We searched for golf balls (finding lots in our own back yards!) and sold them back to the golfers who by the 11th hole were frequently running low. We all knew we had to be home for dinner. In the summer we would all beg out parents to let us back outside after dinner so we could go on the golf course and catch fireflies. We all knew when the street lights turned on, we had to be home.
In the summer, we biked to the country club (and pretty much always took the disallowed golf cart trail instead of the sidewalks because it was so much faster) where we promptly ignored each other to play with our friends at the pool. But, when it was time to go back we all went together. We didn't travel in a pack because we were told to. We weren't scared into the need to go together. We just chose to.
I played soccer and had practice twice a week in elementary school and games on Saturdays. I also took piano lessons and would walk to my piano teachers house one day a week after school for my lesson. I had structure. I had organized sports. But I also had unstructured, outdoor, free play.
It was a pretty great way to grow up.
And kids now don't know what it's like. They don't play out in the front yard. They would never bike all the way to the country club. They don't play on golf courses. They don't sell lemonade from their backyard to total strangers. They don't know how to play alone. Because parents don't let them.
On Friday, the speaker at my MOPS group, Dr. Nell Bush, talked about a toddlers need for outdoor free play and the importance this has for full brain development. In her words, "a child can't reach their full potential without outdoor free play." This really hit home with me and I spent the weekend talking my husbands ear off about all the wonderful things she said about child development and parenting.
Then, Monday morning, I received a link to an article in my inbox from my brother. It's a long read, but thoroughly worth it. Lots of great information on the importance of free play and exploration in elementary and older children. I would summarize it here, but I would much rather you all go read it. Make the time. I promise it's worth it!
Source: The Atlantic Magazine
The idea of letting my kids roam our neighborhood with the freedom I had terrifies me. Cars speed down our road. We don't have an empty lot or playground right by us to facilitate neighborhood play. And of course in these days of 24 hour media coverage we are constantly hearing about the dangers that befall unsupervised kids. But I know that I don't want to stifle their learning and creativity. I want to enable my boys to be leaders. To be problem solvers. To be independent. And to do that, they need time when I'm not watching. They need to run, jump, wrestle and just "be boys" (of course the girls need these things too so maybe they all just need to be kids!).
This is an important issue. So much new research is showing the harm of "helicopter parenting" and the problems of over-scheduled kids. I don't have the answers. I don't know how to balance these things. But I'm thinking about it. And hopefully by the time the boys are old enough to free play somewhere other than our game room or backyard I'll have a more coherent thought about it!
Do your children free play? Do you encourage them to just be kids? How do you balance unstructured play with your own fears? What are you doing to actively foster independence in your child(ren)?

1 comment:

  1. I had a very similar upbringing & it's been the main reason we moved to our new hood. The gals current favorite phrases are "wanna go outside & wanna go play!" I can't wait for the days of letting them bike to the pool & lake to spend the day with their friends as I once did!