Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Then and now

IF you were a child 50 years ago you spent your summers outside, sometimes from dawn to dusk and you:

  • Rode a bike
  • Climbed trees and built tree houses
  • Went swimming/wading in the local creek
  • Played on some great playground equipment (who remembers the maypole, the merry-go-round where a couple of big kids had to run really fast to get it started and then you all kept it going by leaning in and out or the climbing ladders or a whole host of other pieces of equipment that no longer exist.
  • Played red rover, kick ball, hopscotch, four-square, jumped double dutch
  • Collected butterflies, lightening bugs, June bugs, tadpoles And a host of other activities that required you to be able run, jump, climb, twist, turn and deal with the occasional scrapped knee/elbow/sprain/bruise or even broken bone.
  • You also did yard and garden work (unless you live in the city and didn't get shipped off to the grandparents) You learn how to handle all your body parts.

IF you were a child 40 years ago you

  • spent your summers outside/inside, but rare was the day spent from dawn to dusk outside doing stuff.

However, you probably still managed to

  • Ride a bike
  • Climb a few trees, no tree houses allowed
  • Went swimming, but a the local community pool/no wading in the creek because it was now an encased drainage ditch and fenced off
  • Played at the playground, but most of the really good playground equipment had been replaced with "safe" and non-challenging items
  • Didn't do much collecting of anything insect-wise for one or more of several political reasons
  • May or may not have learned how to jump rope, play Four-Square, hopscotch, kick the can
  • May have been enrolled in adult supervised team sports
  • Did yard work and/or worked in a garden, but only if you lived in the country
  • You didn't have as much of a chance to learn how to really handle all your body parts, but at least there was still some effort being made.

IF you were a child 30 years ago you spent your summers

  • Inside/outside and were only outside for fairly short periods of time.
  • You might know how to ride a bike.
  • You most likely never climbed a tree.
  • If you went swimming at all it was at the community center and as a part of a swimming class or swim team
  • Were afraid of insects
  • Never played an outside game that didn't include adult supervision, lots of protective gear and a strict schedule
  • Played video games at the local video game parlor
  • Were encouraged to engage in far fewer physical activities of any sort

IF you were a child 20 years ago you spent your summers

  • Inside and only went outside to get from one place to another.
  • Once in a great while you spend a couple of hours outside.
  • You might learn to skateboard or use in line skates, bikes were optional
  • Swimming optional
  • Games requiring you to be outside...optional
  • Insects, birds, snakes, turtles, tadpoles and most dogs and cats were not things you willingly came in contact with.
  • Someone drove you to all your activities, most of which were done in clean, air-conditioned buildings with you under close adult supervision and wearing all sorts of padding and safety gear
  • all those skinned knees would probably cause arthritis
  • Video games were the physical activity of choice

IF you were a child 10 years ago you spent your summers

  • Inside
  • Someone always drove you from place to place
  • Bikes, skateboards, in line skates were too dangerous
  • Trees are dangerous
  • Insects, birds, snakes, turtles, tadpoles and most dogs and cats are dangerous
  • Everything you will ever need to know you can learn on a computer.
  • Soon there will no longer be a need to walk, much less run.

And that is why I say people under the age of 50 have to be taught how to handle their own bodies before they can even begin to have a prayer of being successful with this four-legged creature known as dog.

Of course they don't know how to treat a dog as a dog, they have never had a chance to learn what a dog is to begin with and so lack a reasonable frame of reference. Right now their only frame of reference to what a dog is can be seen on CBS: Greatest American Dog

Right now, on the other side of my tall fence on two sides is an apartment complex. It's been there for about 30 years. Thirty years ago, there were children outside playing in the summer. I know there are children living there. I see them in the early morning as they are being hustled into cars to go to ??? And I see them in the evening when they are brought home. I see the school bus that picks them up during the school year.

These children are NEVER, EVER outside to play or do anything other than get into or out of a car. They are NOT learning how to walk, run, fall, deal with a scrapped knee or elbow or a host of other things that truly are necessary for healthy growth and development. What I hear from the kids who come to me is that all their friends think they are really strange because they go to "this place" where they are around dangerous beasts, dangerous insects, turtles, trees that need climbing. They get scraped knees, elbows, stings. They get hot, dirty, wet, and according to their parents smelly.

They are the lucky ones.

At 13 they are falling over their own feet, by 16 they move with the smooth grace of a healthy youngster. It is extremely obvious right now because I have three here with me. Three who have learned or are learning how to move and handle themselves and I also have two who come with a parent to take lessons. Those two are clumsy, jerky, and clueless. They hate being outside. They whine about the bugs. They are afraid of the other dogs.

They can't even run without herky-jerky, elbows flapping, toes pointed like a duck movement. Harsh assessment? Yep. Honest assessment? Yep. Will they get better? Doubtful. Why? Because their parents aren't one bit better and are far too worried about the dangers of scraped knees or elbows. They are bloody well learning how to be a great computer software accessory, but are they learning how to be human?

A slightly different version of this started out as an email post and after some thought I decided it really needed to become a part of my blog. More on the subject later.

1 comment:

  1. 30-25 years ago I had a childhood similar to what you describe for 50 years ago, but I was fortunate in growing up with a half-acre yard not too far from a creek. Of course, I had a dog to walk :).

    Even when I was schooling in the city, we'd play all the games you listed (except red rover), kick can, prisoner's base, hide and seek, and lots of other healthy games. There were stray dogs about too.

    I now live in a small town where kids bike, play hockey, and other games. I do think you are onto something very crucial about lack of exercise and fear of the outdoors those days. One day we were babysitting my best friend's little sister. She was around 6 and I decided to show her how to climb the 35-foot hemlock in our yard. I was 12. It was dead easy, she was not a clumsy child, and we had tons of hand holds.

    So I showed her where to go. She climbed up 20 feet and got to see the neighborhood. My mom yelled at me, but 10 years later I met her again, and she said "I remember climbing that tree."

    We should all read your checklist carefully and think hard about the environment our kids are growing up in and whether we let them test their limits.

    Exercise helps kids learn and be more confident, and goofing off is as important or more important than learning to play organized sports.