Off and Out!

I want my kids off screens and out doors! Not only would I prefer mother nature to ‘World of Warcraft’ to be entertaining my children but I want freedom for them. Freedom to roam away from home, freedom to explore the world and play games of their own making; freedom to take risks and freedom to gather the sort of precious memories that childhood can be made of.

At a talk by Sue Palmer, author of ‘Toxic Childhood’, a hall full of adults were asked to recall a favourite childhood memory of play. When asked whether we were outdoors, every single hand was raised. When asked whether we were without adult supervision, again every hand was raised. When asked if we had any manufactured toy (aside from a bicycle which she described as a means of escaping adult supervision) not a single hand was raised. Finally, when asked if our children regularly had this kind of freedom, very few of us were able to raise our hands. I am saddened to think that many of our generation of children are being cheated of those play experiences that we had chosen to be our best.

I remember when my mother needed a break she shunted us outside. Even when we protested, we usually ended up having a fine time and she was able to recharge. Left to our own devices, not everything that went on would have pleased our parents, but we gained a great deal. We knew that if we were bored, it was up to us to create our own diversions. We dreamed up the most amazing games, and yes they were sometimes inspired by the programmes we watched on the television, but in adapting them we made them ours. We learned what happens if you don’t test a tree branch before giving it your whole weight and we learned what happens if you disable the brakes before a downhill bike race. We worked out how to make things fair, taught the only-child to share, and tested the limits of friendship. We looked out for the little ones, mostly, and knew the taste and smell of the earth because hey, it was a dare.

How often now do screens take the place of the big outdoors, to give parents a break, and occupy children? How easy with our busy roads and papers full of child-abuse, to feel safer with our children within our own four walls or fences. But what are we denying our children by logging them on rather than shunting them out? And is the world wide web so very much safer than the outside world?

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Posted on 23 April 2012
Musings: Parenting girls, Parenting teenagers
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 or so comments

3 Responses to Off and Out!

  1. Mairi Stones says:

    I’m there with you. I want them exploring something else too, not always the web. They learn so much by being alone, or together in a gang facing things, without the hovering parent on hand to rescue all the time.
    I’m saddened when my children show a lack of ingenuity and ability to think for themselves, and ask how or where when it would be so simple to “have a go”, and “figure it out” themselves. I wonder if some of it is because they haven’t had enough time out there on their own?
    It’s a tough one this. XX

  2. Anna CJ says:

    I read the article currently on your home page – which I basically resonated to and agreed with. Then I came to: ‘We learned what happens if you don’t test a tree branch before giving it your whole weight and we learned what happens if you disable the brakes before a downhill bike race.’ And I wondered what you saw as the difference between sitting on a branch that breaks and you fall with it, or disabling the brakes in a downhill bike race and falling off – in each case possibly hurting yourself badly – and explaining the dangers of unsupervised play on a trampoline, or how to cut safely with a sharp knife, both of which I know you do.

    • Kim says:

      You’re right, I do advocate allowing children to take responsibility for their own well-being, and I’ve written more about ‘staying safe through risk taking’ here. For me this means showing them how to be safe, and then allowing them to test it out for themselves, which gives them the powerful experience of learning from their own mistakes. I restrain my impulse to be a hovering, anxious adult who bans anything that looks risky and constantly cries out “Be careful! Don’t! You’ll fall/cut/hurt yourself.” This does not mean that I would leave children to fall from cracked branches or to crash on their bikes, but in my experience children will try things anyway, and better that they know that they have been put in charge of their own welfare, armed with information like ‘test the branch first’, and are then left to suffer the (hopefully small) scrapes that healthy children easily endure. Generally, a bit of a scare from a small tumble is a wonderful way to confirm the truth of what an adult may have already alerted them to. Children learn more effectively from their own experience, rather than an adult dictate, and are then better able to assess risk and make sensible choices when the grown-ups are not around – and later in life too, the research shows.

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