Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Go outside and play

I awakened to the usual droning newscasts this morning but one of the reports really caught my attention. It seems that there is a battle going on about the banning of recess from the school day. When I web searched the topic, I discovered this isn’t just a battle, it’s a world war. Millions of kids around the world may have one of their basic rights stripped away. I was intending to blog this as a funny piece but I’m starting to think that all these websites and protesters may have every reason to be concerned.

I grew up with a fairly simple agenda: walk to school, sit in class, learn reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, a little bit of Polish (it was a small Catholic school in a Polish-American neighborhood), go outside, run around, play hopscotch and tag, gossip with the girlfriends, giggle at the boys and sometimes fall down and scrape a knee. My parents trusted the school authorities to get it right and teach and nurse and discipline me when needed. There were boundaries and no cell phones to get in the way. I walked home and ate dinner (always at 5:00pm) and then practiced my music and did my homework. This was way before after-school activities and gym teachers. Gym activities were covered on the playground with the running and tag and climbing and jumping rope. Recess was also a lesson in civics and socialization. If you thought a kid wasn’t playing fair, you called him on it. I found out early that there was strength in numbers. Usually, the kids could work out their problems without adult interference. We needed that time in the schoolyard to learn how to connect and get along. We were too busy listening to the teacher and writing from the blackboard the rest of the day.

That was then, a half century ago, and this is now. There are car pools and suburban moms and multi-tasking and multi-schedules. Kids don’t walk to school anymore; they are driven or bussed. Many of them probably have cell phones too. The parents are working from a new paradigm. They are super invested in their kids’ daily lives, perhaps too invested. I think a lot of families are on the edge of panic. There’s no time for a sit-down dinner as mom is working full-time and has to take Johnny or Joanne to soccer practice on Monday, violin lesson on Tuesday, little league or gymnastics on Wednesday, library-enrichment night on Thursday, and sleep-over on Friday. Many kitchens have organizational flow charts on their refrigerators. God, I’m breathless just thinking about it. No wonder the kids are tuning out with MTV and computers. Stop the world, they want to get off!

You would think that all this extracurricular activity would be producing robust and healthy kids. More disturbing news: the big Macs are catching up with the younger population as much as the older. Obesity in children/adolescents is on the rise. It’s probably due to the weekends spent chilling out from all the scheduled activity after school. Kids want to vegetate in front of their PC. And I bet many have their very own computer too. Well, yes, it’s an escape hatch. And not just for kids, eh? I’m blogging right now so I’m just as guilty.

The best release to the demands of parents and teachers may just be the old-fashioned idea of recess, a brilliant concept which worked for millions of kids throughout the decades. Kids need to take a healthy break, need to feel free to just do nothing, away from their hectic, over-scheduled modern lives. Jumping rope and running around will burn up some calories and maybe balance out the sitting at the computer.

I worry that parents are micro-managing their children’s lives. And I worry that professional educators are focusing on testing and outcomes so much that their stress to make a school or school district look good is carrying over to excessive demands on their charges. Schoolbags are now being designed more ergonomically because the kids have so much homework that they must carry tons of books back and forth each day. Doctors are seeing more and more orthopedic problems in the younger generation. Maybe it’s time to separate adult needs for competition from what the kids need and “Get off their backs”.

Quite simply, kids need time to themselves. It’s in the downtime that imagination and dreams are born. Cloud gazing may lead to creative ideas and future goals. Mom and dad, stand down. Teachers do the same. Give the kids some breathing room. And, while you’re at it, take some time off yourselves. It wouldn’t be such a Prozac nation if we all remembered to play.


Vikki said...

I've seen a lot about the over scheduling thing, including a news story in which the mother bragged about having a full case of juice boxes and snacks in the back of her van so that they children could eat "dinner" on the way to various activities. It's frightening. I am a mother of two small children and we definitely make every effort to have a sitdown dinner together. They don't watch TV. We choose our older child's activities carefully so that he only has one thing at a time. Also, about recess, both of our kids have it...even our 1 year old goes to the gym at her day care. I love my children's work at school but I also love how physically strong and active they are. We have to find a way to nurture the mind and the body. Whew...sorry for the tangent.

Jenn said...

So sad and so scary. Like you, Vikki, we're real lucky to have our girls at places that encourage fitness and fun. But it sounds like we're in the minority there. Wow.

geogirl said...

I remember about a year ago there was a commercial on TV promoting a new highspeed internet access. The commercial starts with some poor kid sitting outside staring at his skateboard and looking depressed. Then he picks up a basketball and halfheartedly throws it at a basket before giving up. "Is it done yet?" he calls out to his mother. She turns from the kitchen sink and takes a look at the computer screen which has the message "Downloading please wait" on the screen. "No." She answers almost apologetically. Then the deep voiced announcer asks "Tired of waiting for Dial-up?"

What the hell?? They were actually telling us that slow computers were bad because they forced your kid to GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!! I couldn't believe it!!

Ginger Davis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ginger Davis said...

I'm with you Mater, you are absolutely right, more play less activities. Most people never thought about their kids getting stressed out, but they do.
Love your site!

wopd said...

This is sad. I do admit that I was kind of tormented on the playground but in general I think recess and play are beneficial. My friend's Dad made her and her sister and brothers go for walks. At the time they dreaded it but now we all look back on that as a great idea (but maybe not in the dead of winter in Buffalo).

Happy Birthday Mater!

Antique Mommy said...

A very brave post you have written Mater. I'm 46 with a 2-year-old and I long to give him the kind of world in which I was raised - with recess and walking to school and goofing off time - but is that realistic? He's got to learn to live in the world in which he lives. You have touch on an ocean-sized issue that I wrestle with daily.

The Mater said...

Thanks for all the insightful comments. It seems I've touched a nerve. And, yes, this is a brave new world - a world of instant information and communication. The little ones are growing up in a society that seems to value the ability to multi-task and move at a rapid pace. Many parents are feeling the same pressures. Both generations are colliding. What concerns me is the lack of balance. Frankly, I don't know how well I would have handled raising my two in the new information age. I salute all of you for identifying the problem and trying to reach some peaceful and creative solution that works for you and yours. The kids will take their cues from you. Go gently.

7:01 PM

Mega Mom said...

It is so important to me that my children, my husband and I live our lives with balance. Exercise and free play is ALWAYS part of that. It is unfortunate that people who make everything about learning and structure miss out on some of the best times in life. I'm so glad to have found a "real-life" community where my feelings are replicated and an Internet community that also upholds these values.

Mama Kelly said...

came over from yr daughters site "breed em and weep" to say happy birthday!!

Simon said...

I find it kinda funny that I'm reading this in my basement at 10.30 at night since the rest of my day seems far too full and busy to bother to take time to sit down and read for a bit. I also felt like I had to hurry through it so I could get on to the next post I had bookmarked to read.


MsCellania said...

Amen, Mater.
What happened to walking to school WITH YOUR KIDS (do-able when they are little; not so do-able when they are embarrassed to be seen with you) and actually talking to them.
How about taking the kids to the park and playing on the play structures with them? It's a definite wide-ass check as big buns do NOT fit down the slides these days.
How about making dinner WITH the kids? They will eat what they prepare. Happily.
How about turning off all TVs and computers and playing board games? Our little ones can play Sorry, Candyland (of course), a bunch of Cranium games and War or whatever PC name they are calling that card game now.
How about sitting down and reading with your babies, toddlers, little and big kids? They never outgrow laying in bed and listening to a good read, or how about the kids reading aloud to you?
How about a rip-roaring game of hide n seek in the house?
How about an inside camping out with tent, camp lights, etc?

jen said...

Sans kids and touched a nerve here, too. I see my friends do this - and then they wonder why THEY'RE exhausted? 3-4 activities and then you mutliply that by child? Huh? My mom would say "go out and play - come back when the street lights come on." We did not have Atari, I got away with some TV but basically we played outside. Kick the can, hide & seek, we put on plays, built forts, nothing extraordinary...maybe I am just lucky to have grown up in the neighborhood I did. And maybe just a coincidence, but I recall only 1 girl & 1 boy who would qualify as "chubby" in our densely populated 'hood of kids.