penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Nature Boy

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Recently my children and I went to one of our local parks.  We are blessed with many within walking and biking distance. They have colourful play structures, sand, swings and sometimes a wading pool or a splash pad.  All of these parks are very, very safe.  The structures and landscape are well kept, and there are often lifeguards or those who work for the city nearby. If nothing else, there are lots of neighbours to keep an eye out on things.

My kids love being outside. They run hard, they play hard and they yell – a lot.  Sometimes the usual safe park structures aren’t enough for them.  They climb trees, and walls and well, just about anything  vertical.  Then they will jump off whatever they’re climbing. They’ll worm their way through oddly shaped bike racks.  They will take ropes and swing off them. Sticks make excellent swords. And wands. And guns.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch sometimes. I think my heart has stopped several times.  I have worried legs or arms would be broken.  Eyeballs poked out.  Impalement is always an option.  So far we have been lucky – there have been a few bumps, bruises and scratches but that’s about it.

But I have never stopped my kids from playing on or using the natural (and sometimes unnatural) things around them – sometimes in ways that were never intended.

I don’t mean I let them go out and play on a construction site filled with broken glass.

I do think it’s reasonable for them to ask for some rope so that they can tie together some sticks and make a tent.  Or to scale a tree.  I often find that the games and worlds that they think up when they are using what is around them are far more imaginative than those they create in a sanitized environment.

I know not everyone agrees with me.

I was at the park recently and there was a tree that had been felled.  Unfortunately the emerald ash borer has taken a terrible toll on our urban forest and this tree was one of the victims.  Lying on the park lawn beside a short stump was the trunk of the tree, already shorn of branches and some sawdust confetti.  My kids quickly drifted from the swings over to the trunk and began jumping up and down on it like some kind of crazed log rollers. Within about a minute and a half an older gentleman parked beside them and hollered at them to “get off – it’s dangerous!”  He looked at me. “I’m sorry m’am but they might hurt themselves.”  I quickly escorted my children back to the rainbow coloured gun metal structure (designated for 5 to 12 year olds according to the placard).

After thinking about it I realized that very few people probably see a child playing out in a truly natural environment anymore.  No wonder it had looked so scary.

What I find even more frightening though is what we are doing to our children.  We won’t let them play unless we are assured whatever it is they are playing on is certified.  They don’t have many opportunities to manipulate their environment.  We don’t let them climb or jump in case they get bruised.  We don’t want them to get dirty – or heaven forbid accidently eat the dirt (My brother always says “God made dirt, so dirt won’t hurt”). We won’t let them play alone – so they are rarely out of the house unless an adult can accompany them (and how busy, busy are we?).  Children who run and yell and don’t follow the rules are considered a problem that need to be fixed.  We prefer they keep still, under the guardianship of the latest video game – that is the only way we will know they are absolutely physically – if not mentally – safe.  However in the long run we may be doing more long-term damage to a generation that will suffer more from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

This week, our northern country received a D- in a global report card measuring children’s activity.  Were we really surprised that our “bubble wrap” generation was given such a low mark?

It isn’t easy to think outside the X-Box.  But if we want our children to be fearless, imaginative and physically capable to take on the world, we are going to have to.  If we want them to appreciate, understand and protect our environment for the future, we are going to have to.

We may even have to let our children do something a little bit dangerous.

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Written by pennyinacastle

June 1, 2014 at 1:55 am

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