When I was a child, we hopped on bikes without helmets, only wore sunscreen at the beach and ate peanut butter sandwiches.
When my oldest children started school in the mid to late eighty’s, they played marbles, bounced tennis balls off the school wall and brought real baseballs and basketballs to school. In short, they played like children have played for generations. By the time they were in grade eight, the principal had banned marbles and real balls from the schoolyard. Why? They were too dangerous!
My oldest daughter drew a picture entitled “Recess at St. Mike’s” featuring a girl, standing frozen in place, with a ball and chain around her ankle. Quite revealing, isn’t it?
When I was a child, we hopped on bikes without helmets, only wore sunscreen at the beach and ate peanut butter sandwiches. I understand that the world has changed but along with new, necessary safety measures this generation has put into place, society has burdened children with fear.
Childhood is a time to play in freedom and joy. Children need freedom to lose themselves in the sheer joy of the present moment, without nagging regret about the past or fear of the future. When we heap our own fears and paranoia on our kids, we paralyze their inner spirits and rob them of a normal, natural childhood.
One example stands out in my mind. I had gathered everyone for dinner but we were waiting for Anthony. Someone spotted him out the window and called the rest of us over to see him. There was Anthony on the platform of our large wooden play structure, wearing his usual uniform consisting of a black cape, black barn boots and grey felt hat, engaged in a fierce sword fight with an imaginary enemy. Suddenly he clutched his chest and staggered over to lean on the railing. Then rallying his draining energy and stamina, he suddenly rose up and with a courageous flourish thrust his sword into his evil opponent and collapsed in exhaustion and agony.
We were all delighted with his imaginary drama.
Children need free, unstructured time to let their imaginations fly. This can only happen if we refuse to allow our own fears to burden our children and if we give them the time and space to simply be children.