Of the many things that seem to be lacking today, one of the saddest and probably most needed, is an outdoor childhood. That really encompasses so many things. Once again, as great as technology is and the ways it makes our lives easier, it also robs us of many incredible experiences and opportunities to stretch our own abilities and imaginations.
It seems children are the most notable victims of this (although, adults easily get lulled into the “security” of it as well). Yes, children now grow up and can maneuver a computer or a cell phone and they seem to be whizzes at all the gadgets, but how much time is spent staring at one screen or another? Pushing buttons? Watching flashing lights and hearing noises from a speaker? Whatever happened to feeling the dirt on your hands or hearing the birds chirping from the trees? What happened to madly running while the breeze swept over your skin, eventually collapsing in fits of giggles on the soft grass? While technology such as a Wii does provide for physical activity, does it really replace actually getting out and playing soccer or riding a bike? The computerized trees and nature cannot compare to the real thing, nor can it compare to the actual exertion and experience of participating in the real activity, where the whole of nature presents itself as a chance to be or create anything you desire.
Growing up, we had an Atari (and later a Nintendo) but very little time was spent on it. It was more a special activity reserved for in the evening occasionally. Our time was spent outside playing in the dirt, running around, rolling down hills, exploring the “woods,” playing sports, riding bikes, and inventing scenes and situations from our own imaginations. I was lucky enough to grow up in the country, having a lot of space, nature, and animals to occupy my time.While not everyone has the experience of roaming around acres of country or nature, most do have the opportunity to enjoy the outside to some extent. (By the way, all the photos, with the exception of the beach, were taken at my parents’ place, either then or more recently.)
My brother is two-and-a-half years older than I am and was my main playmate. We were always outside, unless it was so cold our faces would fall off. My parents had a very large garden where my brother and I would build roads, “towns,” and our own miniature world (around all the vegetables and such, of course). We would then drive our semi-trucks and tractors all around, delivering this or that and making sure all the townspeople had everything they needed. We would spend hours constructing and creating people, businesses, places, and jobs to be done.
We would also spend hours diligently exploring and pretending we were on wild adventures, throughout the yard, trekking across my Gramps’ pasture, or around the nearby country roads. We watched animals and tried to track them, and also “rescued” animals whenever we found one in need. (My Mom was always giving me a sigh and a, “What did you find this time?” when I would rush into the house asking for some water or food for an animal. Yes, I’m one of those.)
Playing sports in the backyard (as well as organized sports at school) was a huge part of our lives. Whether it was just playing catch, hitting the baseball to each other, throwing the football around (and yes, my brother would tackle me, hard) or shooting baskets and pretending we were winning an NCAA
championship for KU (Go Jayhawks!). We would sword fight with flyswatters (sometimes in the house too. Hello, broken chandelier shades), we would climb trees, and race each other on our bikes up and down the gravel road, in and out of the ditch, and across the yard. We would run, make ourselves dirty by rolling down the hill, and a favorite activity that was similar, getting one of the barrels from my Dad’s workshop and rolling each other around
the yard and down the hill in it. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like the most intelligent thing to do, but it was so much fun.
Nowadays (“why, when I was a young whippersnapper. . .” said in my best crotchety voice) you can’t walk through a store without some child aimlessly trailing their parents around with a handheld game or phone stuck to their nose, where they can’t even be bothered to look up while walking. When more children are stuck in front of TVs with the DVR filled up, and sit, eyes glazed over in front of a computer screen. When Wii, PlayStation, and Xbox are substitutes for social interaction and physical activity. And when it’s easier to stick a screen in front of a child to subdue whining, other than teach them to use his or her magnificent,
capable brain or even teach them any kind of manners or patience. It saddens me to think about how many Cheeto-stained-fingered children there are with orange drool slipping down their chins while their brains succumb to the gentle buzz of a screen.
We got dirty, we skinned our knees, we got bruised, and we had a grand time doing it. We skipped stones on the pond, laid in the grass imagining what the clouds looked like (still love doing this), we found cool sticks, leaves, and stones, we dug in the dirt for bugs, and we caught lightning bugs.
I’m very grateful for the hot and hazy afternoons spent getting chigger bites and listening to the whir of the locusts, and the cold, blustery days tramping in the snow and disappearing into drifts, finally coming inside to the burst of warmth with cheeks glowing red and nose sniffling.
There’s no substitute for the pure exhaustion of a fun-filled afternoon, learning something new about nature through a personal encounter, all those wondrous adventures, and spectacular experiences.
Most kids don’t know what they’re missing.