As a child I had two older brothers and a younger sister, so there was always someone to play with. We had T.V. and an Atari game system but really, we spent most of our time outside with the neighborhood kids. There were many children that lived on our road, at times we all hung out and played tag or hide-n-seek, at times we split up into groups the girls like to jump rope and play school. I remember using our bedroom window as a drive up for McDonalds. We used to make mud pie food and sell it at the drive up window with monopoly money. We often road our bikes up and down the driveway making up all kinds of different scenarios. Weekends, vacations, and summer break we were always playing outside at our house or friends in the neighborhood. Most of our parents had become friends, and looked out for us all.
Now that I have two children of my own, raising them in the house I grew up in, I think back to the way things were for us and I often wonder, why is it so different. I wonder if my parents ever knew what we were up to. I feel like we were able to go pretty much any where in our yard, on our street, in the woods with a quick I going …. I feel like I have to watch my children whenever they are outside and not let them go anywhere I cannot quickly see and check on them. There are very few children on our street now and we do not know very many families that live around us. I often wonder if I am just a worrywart or have thing just changed that much. Even though most of our yard in fenced in, I feel like I have to keep an eye out and teach my children not to talk to anyone who goes by. This is so different from how I grew up, we talk to everyone who went by and we did not have a fence. My boys mostly play with each other and their two cousins and we have some friends over but we are just so busy with life its hard to find the time. Since there are no children, their ages one the street, friends are always a car ride away and times have to be coordinated. When I was young, we just showed up at each other’s houses and were always allowed to stay. My boys do spend a few hours at a time outside, but when they come inside, they want to use electronics of some type. As a kid, we did not have any play equipment in the yard, just us, bikes, and our imaginations. My boys have a clubhouse their uncle helped them build, a playscape swing set, a trampoline, and now the beginnings of a ninja warrior course they are building with their father. Even with all these things to play with, they do not spend nearly the time outside playing as we did.
I think a few things have changed how kids play today from how we played as kids. My kids have each other which is great but they don’t have a neighbor hood of friends to play with like we did. With less people to interact with sustained outside creative play in limited. I also feel parents are much more cautions and protective of their children. We spend so much time keeping them safe and teaching them to be safe around people they do not know and that we don’t trust, we have taught them not to trust. Many families have two working parents causing kids to spend more time in daycare and after school programs. Many families myself included rely on town sports as a way for children to interact and play together. However, this is very scripted and adult directed. Sports are very important to social development but it is not a substitute for open-ended imaginative social play. Many children do not even go outside after school or on the weekend to play, they stay in and watch T.V. and play video game for hours on end. Some video games and some T.V. have their value and can help children’s development in some areas. However, without a balance of open-ended social play, adult directed, and the electronics, I worry about our children’s futures. Are we raising a generation that is not able to think creatively, problem solve, and socialize with other?