Did you know that playing outside is good for children? I know this is true because I read it in the newspaper last week, and this news article was based upon a recent Federally funded scientific study. This study, which was conducted over a number of years and included children from all social classes, has proven that outdoor activities increase a child’s ability to absorb sunshine and inhale fresh air, which appears to improve overall health; apparently the exercise involved in outdoor play is good for a child’s physical health as well. This study also indicated that spending time in unstructured outside activities increases mental and emotional well-being and that children who indulge in such make higher grades and show a greater aptitude for problem-solving than children who do not.
Anyone who knows anything about children is now rolling his eyes and thinking,”Duh!” Children themselves, if left to themselves, also know these things instinctively. But now that we have the scientific data to back us up, maybe we can convince Americans to get back to this basic simplicity and stop the madness of entertaining our children into Neanderthalism. This article, to my great horror, included a website you can go to in order to get ideas for “unstructured outdoor play.” What????? What kind of child needs any adult to give him ideas for playing outside? I can remember spending great swaths of time playing in the yard with a stick. Give a child a stick, and you have a child who can entertain himself for hours. At least, that’s how it used to be, back in the good old days when children were encouraged–no, expected–to use their imaginations. Americans have in the past 20 years or so begun training their offspring from infanthood to depend upon outside sources to think for them. Babies too young to sit up are watching TV in their cradles. Electronic toys do all the imagining for them; the child simply sits back and watches, listens, passive and inert. Video games take the place of the physical games which children used to play when I was young; the ones that called for running, jumping, and taking in lots of fresh air in order to scream and yell. Don’t even get me started on the safety regulations that stifle so many physical activities such as monkey bars and open-air slides. Remember those? Where you could actually feel a breeze in your hair as you slid down?
American children are couch potatoes. And what does that give us? Physically, it gives us weak, overweight, unfit children. Mentally it gives us children who depend entirely on others to tell them what to do, what to think, what to be. Emotionally, it gives us children who cannot function without external stimuli. It gives us children who, if shooed out into the yard to play, will stand there unable to think of anything to do and who will soon be whining from boredom. These children grow into adults who cannot think for themselves and who cannot live without electronic stimuli of some kind for any measurable length of time. These adults do what they are told because they are incapable of doing anything of their own volition. They spend much more time and money on entertaining themselves than they do on educating and improving themselves. Kind of scary, isn’t it?
Don’t you want to unplug your kid and send him outside now?