May 20, 2007

The revival of "traditional play" for children.

Check it out. Some people think kids ought to be encouraged to go outside and play tag and that sort of thing.
Conn Iggulden [author of "The Dangerous Book for Boys"] said in an e-mail message that he routinely received correspondence from parents who yearn for a “return to simple pleasures,” which seems to stem from “potent forces, like the realisation that keeping your kids locked up in the house on PlayStations isn’t actually that good for them; or the appalled reaction of many parents to a health-and-safety culture that prevents half the activities they took for granted as kids — and that they know were important to their growth and confidence.”...

For many parents and educators, the burgeoning interest in old-fashioned games is an outgrowth of a broader campaign... to restore unstructured play in children’s lives....

Dr. Geoffrey Godbey, a professor of recreation at Penn State University, said the idea that parents can revive old-fashioned play is contrary to the spirit of play. He blamed “boomers who want to do it themselves again because they never grew up.”

His advice? “Let the kids go.”

But Sara Boettrich doesn’t want to. The Rochester, N.Y., mother has tried to exhume the old playground games of her own childhood, like seven up — which involves bouncing a red rubber ball against a wall. “I used to love that game!” Ms. Boettrich said. “My friends and I would play that for weeks.”
Oh, that completely gave me a flashback to throwing a ball against the wall to the sequence: plainsies, clapsies, overhand, backsies, high, low, and under we go. It had advancing levels that would necessarily ultimately defeat you. I also remember spending a whole summer where we were obsessed with trying to walk across a ledge that got narrower and narrower at one end. No one could ever do it. I had fantasies -- and I knew they were absurd -- of becoming famous doing these things.

I agree with the people who say that the kids need to have their own motivation. But parents can at least insist that the kids go outside the way parents did years ago. And don't think we didn't complain about it. We all said "There's nothing to do outside." But the idea that we were supposed to go outside had some effect. Nowadays, I think parents accept indoor activities better for some reason. Maybe they like knowing where the kids and that nothing will physically hurt them... nothing sudden, at least... probably.

Here are some of the thing we found to do outside (none of it taught by an adult): octopus, swinging statues, tag, freeze tag, two-square, four-square, "Mother may I," red-light-green-light, Chinese school, monkey in the middle, leap frog, jump rope, Chinese jump rope, hopscotch, hide and seek, crack the whip. We also invented our games that we played at recess. I remember one called "jail." There was one called "Horsemasters," based on the Disney show. And I somehow got a lot of people to play a game I came up with based on a book I liked called "The Little Witch."

And you don't have to tell me that I should be outside... Why aren't you outside?

AND: I just noticed I'd written "swinging statutes" instead of "swinging statues." You might think both seem ridiculous....


George M. Spencer said...

The internet (and gadgets) addicts children just as surely as it does adults. Forget board games, Barbies, army men just as surely as you, dear reader, have already forgotten sitcoms and TV evening news.

My fourth-grader came home upset a few days ago because her friend "Jane" has an iPod and her friend "Joe" has not one, but two iPods (one of them a video version), and she doesn't even have one.....

Synova said...

We don't *let* our kids out of the house.

We don't *let* them roam the neighborhood in packs, find their own games, and explore, just so long as they make it home in time for supper. If we *do* we get labeled "bad parents" and get lectures about all the child predators out there.

Anonymous said...

You are so right about this, Ann. I call this go-out-in-the-backyard-or-safe-neighborhood-park-and-woods philosphy "benign neglect." Lots of fairy huts got built and "survival" ventures happened with my daughter and friends. Never heard mine say "I'm bored, Mom."

Also, when inside, the kids weren't allowed to watch TV together. They had to entertain themselves with their own talk, games, projects, or make-believe.

Today, I'm mostly outside playing and harvesting broccoli, parsley, rosemary and internet thyme between cuttings.

Unknown said...

My grandson will be probably the only adept player of mumbltypeg at his school. For that matter, he will probably be the only one who knows what it is.

amba said...

Another superb book you ought to know about: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. He's started something called the "Leave No Child Inside" movement.

We played on monkey bars (or "jungle gyms"), carousels, see-saws, sleds, and toboggans, and with each other and our arms and legs, but nature was a big part of it. First of all it was where most of that playing took place (it's significant that at "recess," which has now been abolished, you were let outside, though "physical education," also being phased out, might take place in a gym). Second, it was a big feature in our play: snow forts, Indians, pretending to be animals or to have wars or secret hideouts . . . I also caught caterpillars and fireflies, watched the former turn into butterflies, caught and choloroformed butterflies and pinned them on a board, and in FLorida, hunted shells and caught chameleons and climbed trees and played in the water.

When you consider that it's the intricacy of the natural environment and the necessity of surviving in it that shaped our brains, and then you compare the amount of sensory information transmitted by total immersion in nature to the greatest amount that can be delivered by a TV or computer screen -- it becomes not at all surprising that kids are obese and ADDled and angry.

amba said...

Like chimps kept in comfortable cages, but cages.

vnjagvet said...

Remember capture the flag, fifty scatter, kick the can?

They were all team sports played with big kids and little kids, boys and girls all participating from neighborhoods as far as three or four blocks away.

Spring, summer and fall at dusk was the best time for these games.

George M. Spencer said...

I'm not sure where this is going, if anywhere, but kids these days are programmed.

You can't find a child in my neighborhood after school....they're all off to soccer/harp/art/tennis lessons or, best of all, school-sponsored soccer and then off to the private travel-around-the-state competitive league soccer practice. Two soccer practices in one day!

The days of running-around-the-neighborhood-and-playing-touch-football with your buddies are as long gone as my mother talking about riding her pet pony or my father remembering going hunting turkeys by himself at age 13.....

ricpic said...

"Where'd you go?"
"What'd you do?"

Best years of my life.

Pamela said...

Red Light Green Light, Mother May I, and water balloon fights one of my favorite summer time activities. we made jello frozen pops, rode our skateboards, ran in the sprinklers in the heat of 100 degrees Remember paper boys? I chased one around my nieghborhood who I thought was so cute. in my house we had "read" time, even if you had no homework, you had to read for at least 15 minutes a day.

RebeccaH said...

In Texas we used to play cowboys and Indians. It was never certain which side was going to win. Today, a child caught playing that game would be subjected to politically correct re-education about the evils of imperial America and the slaughter of the native peoples.

People have been so brainwashed by television (not discounting the nightly news) that they're afraid to let their children outside for fear of the child molesters on every street corner.

Bruce Kratofil said...

Kickball and spud, in addition to baseball, basketball and football.

One of the favorite shows was "Combat" and we would go out in the woods to play it-- taking turns being Sgt Saunders.

Charlie said...

Me, ages 6 - 12.

A. Put glove over handlebar. Ride to playground.

B. If anyone there, play toss until another shows for Pepper. Play ball till dark, then go home.

C. If no one there, go to swing over creek (80' wire rope w/ 20' drop over rocks). Swing.

D. Cycle back by ballfield.

E. If find dime, ride 8 blocks to store and buy soft drink and 4 baseball card/bubblegum packs.

F. Cycle back by ballfield.

G. If no one there, ride to the steep alley. Race down it trying to stop as late as possible before entering busy 4-lane street.

H. Repeat all weekend and all summer.

Could I get my boys to do that? Nope, no matter how much they liked the movie Sandlot.

Joe said...

Let's not fall into the trap of forcing our kids to go outside; that's only one step away from the nanny-soccer-mom bullshit environment now destroying an entire generation. Some kids don't like it or sometimes prefer to do something else. The real key is to let kids decide what they want to do with their time within very liberal boundaries--as jane said "benign neglect".

(I was raised this way and said "I'm bored" many of times. My kids say the same things sometimes and my wife and I respond the same way my parents did; "So?")

Bill Peschel said...

Our kids do that. Today, we had anywhere from three to five of them over (we have two).

Ran around in the backyard. Played in the sandbox. Sometimes they'd go downstairs and read, squabble, whatever.

How'd we do it? Easy.

* No cable TV. Get this: we have a DVD player and tons of movies, including about 100 kids movies, Disney, Ardman, Dreamworks, Looney Tunes, Muppets.

Sometimes, they'll watch a movie, but they're not addicted to it like they would be at grandma's house (which has cable).

* No Internet. None. No one but the adultas has access to it.

Otherwise, we let 'em do what they want, and they find something to do (they also know what happens if they come to us and say "we're bored."

Cato Renasci said...

In the early 1950's, loaded up with WWII and Korean War surplus helments, canteens, packs, gas masks and toy guns of all descriptions, we built "forts" and played "army" - boys and girls together, just as othertimes we all played pick up (tackle) football and baseball, and all sorts of tag and capture the flag type games, and rode bicyles 20-30 miles of a summer day, climbed (and fell out of) trees, watched serials on Saturday mornings on TV and a little late afternoon TV (Howdy Doody) if we'd played hard already outside....

When my daughters were growing up in the late '80s and '90's, we were lucky enough to have several neighbors' unfenced yards serve as a safe 'turn the kids loose outside' play area when the weather wasn't actually awful, and they were pretty much shoo'ed outside to play with their friends.... it worked pretty well until they were all caught up in the music lessons, riding, swimming, travel soccer, fencing and sailing as they got older.

There are differences; when we were kids, no one worried about lyme disease or kidnappings.

Pamela said...

Bill said

Otherwise, we let 'em do what they want, and they find something to do (they also know what happens if they come to us and say "we're bored."

yep we never did that, or else Dad would make us weed the planter boxes, or wash the van or host of other un-fun things to do.

comatus said...

Good point, Joe. If a kid wants to read instead of playing ball (I did), let him. Halfway through the lo-o-ong boomer gen, parents started to lose faith in their ability to raise a "successful" child without agents of the state looking over their shoulders. It's so common among current parents, you come off as 'militia' if you don't approve. But there are gatekeepers here, and the statists own them: admissions officers/recruiters/employers are programmed to value harp lessons, dance class, nerd club. Doing these things on your own, or playing ball or going to the bookmobile (remember bookmobiles?), not so much.

Pauly Ester said...

Smear the queer, red rover, capture the flag, skeateboarding without a helmet/pads, riding bikes upt to 10 miles away from the house, taking the bus into the city (Madrid) unaccompanied...

Yeah, I had it pretty good growing up. Lots of scrapes and bruises too, but those are part of life. Although thinking about skateboard road rash (and having to pick the rocks out) still gives me heebie jeebies.

Marv said...

Could the problem be that there is such a thing as a professor of recreation?

PeterP said...

In the UK two children were fined for drawing a hopscotch figure on the pavement. Illegal graffiti their parents were told.

Is there any hope? I doubt there is.

Unknown said...

"But there are gatekeepers here, and the statists own them: admissions officers/recruiters/employers are programmed to value harp lessons, dance class, nerd club."

I have worked forty years now and not on one occasion have I filled out the hobbies question, nor have I been asked what I did. I don't think employers and recruiters give a crap, although you might convince me about the admissions folk.

Marv, I think you've hit the nail on the head.

MathMom said...

I remember that I put a lot of miles on my bike, riding across town (5 miles) to take care of my horse, being the first girl with a paper route in Twin Falls, Idaho, and getting up at 3:30 am on Sunday to deliver 100 papers alone, on a bike, in the dark.

My big peeve is that kids are wired all the time, including DVD players in the car. My neighbors can't even take their daughter 100 miles in the car because she gets so bored and complains until they want to perforate their eardrums with a knitting needle. Twice we drove the round trip from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to Al-Ain, in the United Arab Emirates, a 12-hour drive across terrain that looks mostly like a parking lot, with grade schoolers, in a Subaru station wagon.

We also put 7000 to 12,000 miles on our '87 Ford station wagon every year when we'd return to the US on six-weeks’ holiday. The kids had Legos to play with, and books to look at, but most importantly, they had a window to look out of. I told them to watch America rolling by and quit complaining. We'd stop for picnics, we camped at the base of Devil's Tower and watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the big screen TV at the KOA there. We saw Stonehenge in England one Friday, and Carhenge in Nebraska the next Friday. You can’t do that if you fly everywhere, even though flying gets you everywhere faster. You have memories of airports, not events and places.

As a result, we have two sons who are getting the itch to drive places. Yeah, they always want to fly, but the view of the seatback tray table never changes, does it?

Beth said...

I can't remember not playing outside until whatever curfew in force would kick in--usually the street lights coming on. And in summers, we'd be out again right after dinner, but have to stay within a few houses from home. I could stay in and read if I wanted to, and I read a lot as a kid, but outdoors was just as much fun. The things I read would make it into my games, too. No helmet required to get on my bike or skateboard, and by age 8 I always had a least one pocketknife with me; I could walk with an older friend to go ride horses; a pack of us would play down by the creek and have long games of war or capture the flag. I always had Army tents to set up and play in, or we'd pretend to be on some expedition in the little flat fishing boat. I remember a huge bush in the backyard that I used to crawl into as a private place to sit and think. There was always a dog or two along; did that keep us safe?. Softball every summer and lots of football in the front yard.

This was true for me, and for the children of my older sibling. The little ones in the family now have everything scheduled. They play a lot of sports, they dance, they perform in school bands and drama clubs. But I doubt if they have much time by themselves or with friends outside, unstructured.

mythusmage said...

Long as it was sunny and warm you were outside back in my day. Heck, long as it was sunny and you had something warm to wear, you were outside.

I do recall an incident back when I was seven. Dad was home on leave and he had the three of us with him as he did a chore for Mom. We're walking along a street in La Mesa (a San Diego County city) and we pass by an alley with a strange man lingering in it. I've fallen a bit behind, and as I passed the alley the stranger tried to grab me by the hair.

Since he had nothing really to hold on to (very short hair) I got away and told Dad about it when I caught up to him.

He told us, "Stay here." and went and punched the would be kidnapper out. (Dad fought in The war. I mean The War, not some penny fight or aldershot. Damned if some bastard was gonna hurt one of his kids.)

Unknown said...

I just want to thank everyone for their comments on how they spent time as a kid - so much of it sounds exactly like the weekends and summers when I was growing up - and I appreciate your remembrances. I am sorry my kids don't have the same opportunities - mostly because of the times in which we live, but also where we live (urban area), their gender (girls - sorry if that offends anyone as sexist, but it's a factor), their friends and their personalities/interests.

The world has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

james said...

On the lighter side of this topic, today's (20-May) Tank McNamara cartoon:
from gocomics

John Stodder said...

I'm another parent who used to tell my son "go outside and play...find somebody to play with," only for him to come back and report there wasn't anyone around.

Eventually he made a friend at school that he could throw a football with for an hour or two.

Now he's a teenager and we have a dog. Thanks to that dog's daily need for at least one long walk, he has discovered the benefits of being out of doors.

But I do feel like I was lucky. When my mom threw me outside, it was often possible to get a baseball game together, sometimes with 18 kids within 2-3 years of the same age. No unis, sweatshirts for bases, left of "that tree" and right of "where the ivy starts" for foul lines, call your own balls and strikes. Sometimes we had to let girls play, but no one sued us.

Better was football at the muddy field at my elementary school in the fall. Tackle football. No pads, no helmets. First downs decided somewhat arbitrarily. My father was proud of me for bringing one of my younger brothers to join the game, even though he routinely got crushed by my bigger friends.

We usually left that field with blood all over our clothes. Again, nobody sued. Another benefit: Nobody ever got into fights. We aired it all out playing football.

To me, AYSO is a four-letter word.

This is one area where I am helpless against boomer nostalgia. It was definitely better for kids back in the 60s.

james said...

This from Mrs. James: Youngest son, who has Asperger's Syndrome, has a hard time communicating with other kids. His default activity is to sit for hours with his legos. We know better than to allow him more than an hour or two of TV/electronics time a week. He'd never do anything else if he had more access to gadgets.

We found a competent, kindly and patient teen to act as peer mentor and do Guy Stuff with him after school. We schedule play like other people schedule lessons. Today's victory: our son just dropped his Star Wars project and ran outside to play basketball with the neighbor kid. On his own. With no other prompt than the sound of the neighbor kid's basketball. If you have a neurotypical child, you cannot imagine what a big deal this is.

His older sisters could galumph around in the empty lot, climb trees and build forts, catch frogs in the quick mud pit, and play football with the neighbor kids in the middle of the road. The empty lot has been developed, and somebody enforces "no trespassing" at the quick mud pit. But his older brother, who also has Aspergers, can drive now. So the two of them go to a larger park. Eldest watches birds and Youngest goes mudding. Works beautifully.

Kathy said...

I think the reason the parent in the article felt the need to assist her kids in getting started in these playground games is that most kids anymore don't *know* the games and so they can't get started spontaneously. My kids play outside most of the day, weather permitting, and I'm pretty flexible as far as what type of weather is acceptable. But I go out with them because there's no one else outside on our street, even when the kids are out of school.

Kathy said...

Oh, and I *do* make them go outside. If I let them go inside, the oldest would spend all day reading the same books over and over. I did that as a child and missed many wonderful childhood experiences as a result, so her reading time does have to be confined to certain limits. Reading is great, but it isn't a substitute for free play.

PeterP said... it all. Are a zillion I-pods worth a grain of dust compared to what we had?

I would roam hours and miles through the southern English countryside with just an instruction to be back home for tea.

Little traffic to contend with and any pervert we met on the way would have his throat cut by our trusty Scout knives.

So simple and so sweet.

Damn, but I am nostalgic for a time we've lost.

Kirk Parker said...

"But parents can at least insist that the kids go outside the way parents did years ago.

Sure, but as Synova said, far too many would have to give up their moment-by-moment monitoring first.

"And you don't have to tell me that I should be outside... Why aren't you outside?"

Ummm, because I live in Puget Sound country, and it rains all the time here. :-) All the time, I tell you!!!

Charlie Martin said...

Feh. I went outside, where I was bullied, bored, picked last, "ditched", dumped, beat up, teased, taunted, and at least once stabbed in the knee.

Yes, in the 60's. In a small town.

I'll stay inside, thanks.

Cedarford said...

Part of the problem is "advocacy activists" have perpetrated myths of "pedophile epidemics" to go along with their "1 in 3 to 1 in 4 college aged woman will be raped!". Don't go out! Be safe!

Whites in America have also stopped having kids like they used to. White growth is only 0.3% a year, better than now-depopulating Western Europe, but it means less large groups of kids are available in white areas, more spread out, less likely to have fun in a large safe group sometimes doing unsafe things.

Adults don't help matters with hysteria over peanut and Midol bans in schools (OMG!! What if the person with an allergy is too stupid not to take Reeses Pieces from somebody and eat them??? Safest thing is to ban it!)

My local newspaper alerted me to the latest deadly menace we must fight for The children! The children's sake!The lady reporter was hyperventilating about the possible end of the Federal pet turtle sales ban. In 1975 an earlier generation of activists (or the same totalitarian schmoes still running around today) banned pet turtles because some kids got sick on salmonella in turtle feces. Apparantly, Sen Mary Landrieu wants the ban ended to help Louisiana reptile farms, where turtles used to be a big sideline, and it is noted that pet snakes and lizards can carry salmonella as well as birds - so why not sell turtles again.
Well, the journalist urges that if the Federal ban is lifted, the State generate a law to save the children from the looming turtle menace, citing a safety expert (no doubt a totalitarian banner posing as a safety expert pulling fake stats out of their rectum) predicting 100,000 cases a year of salmonella poisoning, mostly children - if "deadly pet turtles" once again hazard our neighborhoods.
Deadlier perhaps than the "sparkler menace" that similar banners predicted "100,000 serious burns" - no doubt by stupid childen with bad parenting about to die from eating peanuts stupidly grabbing lit sparklers 1st - needing to be protected by self-annointed neighborhood busy-bodies and governmental Nannys.

I can't wait! Bring on the filthy turtles and instructions for kids to wash their hands after being around the turtles! (Though 30 years after the ban they can treat and sell the turtles salmonella free though the little reptiles might pick up a natural population of the bugs from all the food sources with mild salmonella levels later ...chicken, spinach, lettuce...)

A generation that cringes from pet turtles is in no shape to take on Islamoid terrorists - and I'm not talking about the midol-free, peanut-free, sparkler-free kids. The adults.

Jennifer said...

We also have no cable tv - just movies - and while my daughter (the youngest) can watch Barney over and over and over and son isn't particularly interested anymore.

We have a swing/slide/fort set in the backyard, plus enough sticks to fight an entire war and enough bugs to keep him occupied for hours. We're also fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood with lots of kids and where we know everybody. All he has to do is ride down the street on his bike, and its a rare day that none of the other kids come out to join him.

But, I still occasionally have to tell him to go outside. He's always happy that he did.

MadisonMan said...

The son has an entire stick collection -- everytime he's out, he'll pick one up, and it is deposited outside our front door, next to his home-made bow. Fortunately, Madison will take sticks away every month. They also make good fireplace kindling.

TMink said...

I kick my little kids out of the house regularly. And I watch them like a hawk. Not to see what they are doing, to see that they are left alone. We live in suburbia, but there is about one attempted child abduction a day reported here. So they are limited to my line of sight, but I make them go outside and play with themselves or the grass or a neighbor.


Christy said...

Do I dare suggest The Life and Times of the Thunbderbolt Kid to this crowd? It's Bill Bryson's tale of being a kid in the 50s and is very much in line with the discussion. Besides, it is belly laugh funny.

Orion said...

My mother actually wrote an article on this several years ago and allowed me to publish it on my blog.

You can find the article here:

"Where Have All the Children Gone?"


Ruth Anne Adams said...

Damn, but I am nostalgic for a time we've lost.

Me, too. I was robbed at gunpoint this week while standing outside a restaurant with my friend.

My three children are 5 and under. There's no way I'd let them out alone. We have a large deck where they can play. But if they're going to be in the yard, they must have an adult with them. Can you imagine my life of endless guilt if something untoward happened to any of them?

Anonymous said...

----Can you imagine my life of endless guilt if something untoward happened to any of them?

So, it's all about you, is it?

What do you think happened in prior generations? Did they not feel guilt? Did they not think they had something to feel guilty about? Or did they just deal with the fact that sometimes, bad things happen? Maybe it wasn't all about them, it was actually about the children.

Eli Blake said...


Just think how much money they can soon make by selling you 'Internet tag,' 'Nintendo Dodgeball,' 'Virtual Ring-around-the-rosey,' and 'Playstation Hide-and-seek.'

Yeah, enjoy all those great outdoor games, without even getting off the couch.

Bet the marketing departments are working overtime on it right now.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Allison: Why, yes, it is all about me and my husband taking our responsibility as parents seriously. It's all about us trying to maintain their innocence, stimulate their minds, keep their bodies healthy, and inculcate them with decent morals so they can live in a world of Islamofascists bent on their destruction and garden-variety thugs who rob their mom at gunpoint. A reasonably prudent parent has a higher standard of care now than my folks did in the 50s and 60s. To behave otherwise is irresponsible.

Eli Blake said...

Here are some things I learned about outdoor games:

1. Never hide behind a tree. Either it's too skinny, or it's the only one thick enough to hide behind and its the first place they'll look.

2. If you are playing tag, find the muddiest spot and hang out behind it. The person coming to tag you will look like the Flintstones when they try to turn around and run away, and go nowhere.

3. If you are playing army men, pick the ones that are already lying down. It's harder to turn them over with a pebble.

4. Don't play Red Rover with kindergartners. You'll get them on your team, and then the other team will break through them and pick Big Mike to come back with them.

5. Don't dig for worms in the middle of the lawn.

6. Don't wrestle with a little kid. If you make him cry-- then you're in trouble.

7. Don't underestimate girls and what they can do with their feet, like balloon stomping or for that matter if you are stomping on ants or making footprints in wet cement after the carpenter has left and they decide to join you; remember, they grew up playing hopscotch, jumprope and tap dancing. Whatever you're doing, they'll be so much better at it you'll be embarrassed.

8. Correlary to the above: Don't play any game with girls that you will be embarrassed if they beat you. Especially softball, kickball or flag football.

9. Don't use a nickel while playing marbles. That's because if you miss with a marble, it rolls for a long way, but if you miss with a nickel, it goes plop and sits there next to the marble. Plus, when I was a kid, marbles cost a penny each.

10. Don't play tug of war with kids who ride their bikes everywhere.

11. At camp, if it's kids vs. counselors, don't expect the counselors to let the kids win. They won't, and most of the time the counselors win.

12. (correlary to the above): About counselors and other adults-- they cheat worse than any kid you've ever seen. And some adults are OK if they lose, but some of them-- well you'll be cleaning the outhouse for the rest of camp.

amba said...

The comment about "filthy turtles" reminded me of an article I read somewhere that slum kids who played out on the filthy street (in America, that is, where the streets are not open sewers) had stronger immune systems than the "Lysol kids" whose mothers kept them away from germs, and who as a result were always getting sick because they had no resistance.

My mom let us put on old underwear and play in the mud, gutters and puddles after Chicago rainstorms. I don't know if there's any connection, but of the 6 of us -- born 1946 to 1959 -- none (knock on wood) has yet had a really serious illness.

Galvanized said...

I saw this author interviewed on Colbert Report, and I swore that I would get this book. And I think that there are numerous outdoor activities that the kids should do. I am particularly interested in the pages on learning to skip rocks. I have also noticed that once I demand they go OUT to play, they usually devise their own fun. This how the kids bond and leaders and mediators emerge, and they learn conflict resolution.

On a similar note -- I read a couple of weeks ago that there is something found in dirt that combats depression. I think we've divorced our kids from grime and sweat for our own convenience, and they need to come in physically worn out and ready for a bath each night. They stay leaner that way, too. Ah, those were the good ol' days!

NTSocial said...

Thankfully, the street in front of my house is IN the 1950s. Having grown up in Manhattan in the seventies and eighties, it astonishes me.

My children can wander out the front door at least half the time and find two, three, or four other kids chasing each other, kicking a ball, or trying to run into each other on bikes or roller blades. There seem to be enough adult eyes occasionally scanning to feel safe from the worst, although they've all had to be rushed off to the medical clinic to be bandaged at some point.

I don't recognize the names of half of the games they tell me they've been playing.

Money cannot buy this experience for them. I love living here.

Finn Alexander Kristiansen said...

We live in suburbia, but there is about one attempted child abduction a day reported here

That's absurd, and probably more anecdotal than statistical.

Growing up we played outdoors a lot. In the early years it was tag, freeze tag, red light/green light. Around 6th grade there was a lot of baseball, football, bike riding, and running outside after Kung Fu theatre to pretend fight.

At school there was flies up and it's harsher version, asses up. Females rarely played that latter, where, if you dropped the ball, you were forced to lean against the wall while someone drilled a ball into any part of the body they chose. Technically it was supposed to be your derriere, but nothing stopped someone from drilling you in the head if they thought it might make for a laugh. (Though, in the world of child justice, they had to weigh doing this against the fact that you could do the same when they dropped the ball).

There were tons of days of boredom beneath a hot sun as well, spent standing in front of someone's house begging the resident parent for water.

The world today is a bit more dangerous, however, there is a tendency among some parents to see a lot more danger where very little exists.

Revenant said...

there is about one attempted child abduction a day reported here

I doubt that, unless you're counting abductions by family members (which account for virtually all abductions).

Statistically speaking, your kid's a lot more likely to be abducted if you leave him with your spouse unsupervised than if you let him roam the neighborhood unsupervised.

Chip Ahoy said...

OK, now I'm embarrassed. You guys don't still do some of these things?

Joan of Argghh! said...

Don't want the kids to play outside? Don't blame you.

Blame the parents who decide to sue the monkey-bar manufacturers.

Blame the lawyers who sue the monkey-bar manufacturers.

Blame the evil stuck-in-the-60's jurors who want to "stick it to the man" and vote to impoverish the monkey-bar manufacturers, and not really even consider what is just and right.

Kidnappings on the rise?

Blame the Internet porn addiction.

Blame the so-called psychologists who excuse aberrant behavior.

Blame NAMBLA and other who would form a political group to approve of such perversities.

Make it all seem sexually normal. Better yet, tell the children that everything is normal. Aw, heck, take "normal" out of the dictionary except for mathematical analysis. Oh wait. That won't work either because numbers aren't allowed to be politically incorrect.

Blame the cowardly neighbors, friends and co-workers who don't speak up for fear of being labeled something ridiculous by Leftists, or worse, being labeled a Christian or Jew. Worse than a terrorist-suicide bomber.

Blame the judges who allow perverse criminals back into our neighborhoods.

Have sympathy for the child molesters forced to live under a bridge in Miami.

Defend the molesters and monsters who believe they still have some sort of human qualities that deserve our pity or our support.

Now, assure our children that they're special, important, our Future, even if we don't pass laws that would reflect just how valuable they are. Give them anything to distract them from the truth of what we've created for them.

Give them everything, save any Absolutes, and they'll be adrift as any unmoored ship, at the mercy of any ill wind.

Benign neglect? We've been practicing moral neglect for a whole generation; that makes benign neglect almost impossible.

Old RPM Daddy said...

We had one of those geodesic jungle gyms. One weekend, our dad cut down a couple of trees in our back yard, and cut up the branches to make it easier to discard them later. We made a wonderful hut by draping the branches over the jungle gym! Some time later, one of the boys from the other side of the block mentioned that he and his buddy used the hut to hide out from a bully, so he was glad we'd gone to the trouble to build it.

Unrelated comment: the boy next door had the coolest set of army men -- Americans, Germans, Japanese, along with cannon and tanks. Our garden made the perfect battlefield (dry dirt clods explode beautifully, don't they?). We wound up buying the set from him later.

TMink said...

Finn wrote about my concern of child abductions: "That's absurd, and probably more anecdotal than statistical."

Finn, I am likely overstating actual attempted child abductions, but the risk is not overstated when you take into account sexual abuse as well.

I know about this, it is my job.

So, you are likely correct about the the strict child abductions, it is more likely one or two a week. But our culture is not safe for children. It is a large part of how I make my living, and I have a waiting list.

Sad. But true.


katiebakes said...

Ugh! Mother May I is such a stupid game. I thought that even when I was a child. My aversion is extremely strong. Why does anyone find it remotely fun?

Freder Frederson said...

The world has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Well yeah, it has, crime is actually lower than it was forty years ago. There is no evidence that rates of stranger abduction are higher and awareness of child molestation is higher so perpetrators (who are most likely relatives or friends of the family, not strangers) are more likely to be exposed, caught and punished. Perversely, this probably leads to perception that the problem is greater than it was in the past.

Also, because of all those evil lawsuits, playgrounds are safer (like it or not, monkey bars over concrete are crazy dangerous), bicycles are safer because kids now wear helmets, so are lawnmowers if you are going to make your twelve year old mow the lawn.

We live in suburbia, but there is about one attempted child abduction a day reported here.

Man, where do you live? I live in the murder capital of the country (albeit a relatively safe and quiet suburban corner of it) and there are kids playing unsupervised in my neighborhood all the time (actually it was one of the things that attracted me to the neighborhood, even though I am childless). There has never been an child abduction, attempted or otherwise, here that I have heard of, and we have an active neighborhood association that puts out a weekly newsletter that includes every petty crime in our subdivision and every major one in the police district. I guess the criminals in New Orleans are too busy killing people to bother to kidnap them.

Kirk Parker said...

Ruth Anne,

With all due respect, you're part of the problem, though I certainly don't expect you to take some stranger-on-the-Internet's word for it. But you really should find some local, flesh-and-blood people you can trust and talk to, and explore the idea that overprotecting you children may not really be to their advantage.

Freder Frederson said...

But if they're going to be in the yard, they must have an adult with them.

You must live in constant fear of your own shadow. It is a shame you are raising your children to be so paranoid.

Galvanized said...

I agree with Trey on the safety concerns, and I keep my kids fairly close. Just to get an idea, try pulling up the sex offenders, most of children, that live in your area. We were blown away by the number that live in just our neighborhood alone, which seems STATISTICALLY to be an enclave for them. You cannot be too careful with your children. And anyone who scoffs the effects on concerns about predators must live in an extremely insulated neighborhood, because ours isn't a dump. And it would do every parent good to check the sex offender residences in your area -- certainly not to harrass them but to warn your children of where not to go. Better safe than sorry.

MadisonMan said...

You cannot be too careful with your children.

I think this statement infantilizes kids unncessarily. The message is that they have to be protected from the World at all times, and you don't trust them to be able to take care of themselves. Exactly why do you think that at some age they'll suddenly become functioning independents if you spend too much energy telling them that the world is nasty and you'll protect them?

Parenting is all about slowly letting go of your kids. It's not about protecting them from every perceived danger.

Synova said...

Kirk, Ruth Anne's children are age 5 and under. It's okay for her to watch them every moment of every day at this point.

Kirk Parker said...


Well, we certainly disagree if you think 5-year-olds must be watched like a hawk every moment of the day.


It seems to me the real question here isn't so much the absolute number, or even the relative number compared to other areas, but rather the relative number compared to 40 years ago. I suspect that we have higher awareness and better reporting, not necessarily any higher incidence.

Or maybe I should written "what Freder said". Goodness knows I don't find myself able to do that very often lately! :-)

Jennifer said...

Parenting is all about slowly letting go of your kids. It's not about protecting them from every perceived danger.

I really like that perspective, MadisonMan.

My son is 4 and he has free reign of the backyard with no supervision. Of course, sometimes that means he comes in covered with mud from head to toe - like this weekend when he decided to pretend to be a crocodile. Oy.

In the front yard, I do check on him through the window. I worry about cars and the hard-to-curb impulses of a young boy with friends across the street.

But, I drive my mother nuts because her perspective is a lot closer to Galvanized and Ruth Anne's.

It takes all kinds, folks.

KCFleming said...

Funny how times change.

The 1960s were a veritable paradise for lots of kids. But why were they able to be outside, and wander more or less free from dawn to dusk? What's different now than then?

1. No parent is at home to watch them; everyone's at work. (this is the #1 reason by far)
2. Neighbors are unknown to us, and therefore cannot be trusted to watch out for your kid.
3. There are far fewer kids to play with.
4. Comunity standards for behavior no longer exist. Your kid has a greater chance of having to fight off a gang member than a pedophile.
5. Litigation has made it nearly impossible to play at school. My 8th grader is not allowed to run. Except at gym, around in tedious laps. Never for fun.
6. Letting your kid wander all day is now considered neglect. And might be reported.

Synova said...

So, Kirk, your wife watches the five year olds and younger siblings?

Are you aquainted with five year olds or toddlers?

At all?

I'm very much into the benign neglect mode of parenting and my youngest just turned 10, but at 5 years a child is just starting to have some discretion and it's a chancy thing.

And 5 years with older siblings is entirely different from 5 years with younger siblings when it comes to what they're bound to get into. My older kids required much *much* more supervision than my younger ones because the younger ones could be expected to follow the lead of the older kids.

Different children are different. Some will stick around and you can pretty much know what they're going to get into or not. Others will take off for grandmas house even if it means cutting the screen out of the their window and taking their trike on the freeway.

A five year old can not *watch* younger siblings.

If someone is calling urgent care because their kid ate some dirt they have a problem. Obviously. If someone feels they need to watch *toddlers* they are showing sense.

Three children 5 and under *need* to be watched. I had four 6 and under. The older one might be able to mind himself, but there is a 2 and 3 or 4 year old involved too and toddlers *can't*. By the time the youngest is 3 and the oldest is 7 or 8 the 3 year old will do what the older ones are doing and won't need as much watching.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Kirk, Freder and anyone else who offered their parenting advice to me and my children: Thank you so much. I also commend this book to you--a watershed book about the things we ought to strive to give children--innocence, trust and a sense of wonder.

Perhaps I'm just PTSDing about my own armed robbery this week. Let me assure you, I'm not a timid sort. I worry about this so they don't have to.

Synova said...

"2. Neighbors are unknown to us, and therefore cannot be trusted to watch out for your kid."

It's not just that they are unknown but that adults resent children. If their children are grown they resent not getting to be "done" with kids and resent the implication of some community responsibility for kids in the neighborhood (or at church or where ever) and if they don't have kids it's because they didn't want them and utterly resent any implication of the notion of community responsibility for watching the spawn they never asked for and aren't responsible for. Don't want to watch your *own* kids... don't have them.

But it's okay.

We treat our old people the same way, so it all comes around in the end.

The silly "it takes a village" thing was never about government aid to families it was about children being members of the community, adding to it. Part of the whole and, in a sense, belonging to neighbors as well as parents. Instead kids are a separate, segregated group we never see and which we view as a passing annoyance.

My martial arts "community" is the only place (even including church) where I've found that the adults generally view themselves as having the care of all children in the community, to bring them up decent and instruct them on proper behavior, and look forward to seeing them grow and learn and become adults within the community.

TMink said...

Um, the kids I am watching at all times while they are outside are 4. Enough said?

Or are you just clueless?


TMink said...

Thanks for the feedback, I certainly was overestimating the number of attempted child abductions. Strange thing is I have had three cases due to this in the last month. Obviously, I was a therapist on the edge!

Here is a good site with reasonable stats on the crime.

That said, my 4 year olds will have my supervision when they play outside. That is just (un)common sense.


Kathy said...

The age and maturity (and good sense) of the child seems to be a critical factor here, which just came up in the recent comments but really would impact all of them. My kids are 6 and under. The 6 year old, given her good sense and the neighborhood we live in, gets lots more priviledges without supervision than the littler ones. But because my neighborhood is deserted during the day, I watch even her when she's outside in the front of the house and keep an eye out for her in the back. Pogo's right about the added factors that make it harder to send kids out unsupervised now, but it's also true that a lot depends on the age of the child, the temperament/responsibility level of the child, and the particular neighborhood in which you live.

Freder Frederson said...

I also commend this book to you--a watershed book about the things we ought to strive to give children--innocence, trust and a sense of wonder.

So that's your problem. You actually think Michael Medved is not a complete lunatic.

KCFleming said...

Medved's pretty smart. And cantankerous, but that's a plus.

And yes, where one places Medved is a pretty simple determinant of one's parenting style.

Freder Frederson said...

It's not just that they are unknown but that adults resent children.

You people must have some real assholes for neighbors. Like I said I live in the city of New Orleans. I live in a middle to upper middle class mixed race neighborhood (about a 1/3 black, maybe 10% Asian and the rest white). We have a mix of retired people, people with kids of all ages and childless couples. Like I said before, kids are constantly playing in the yards and streets of neighborhood. I can't think of anyone who "resents" children. The neighborhood kids are constantly running across and playing in my front yard and my driveway. It doesn't bother me in the least and I keep an eye on them. I think it is a better burglary deterrent than any other available.

I was actually talking to my neighbor about it the other day. She has three boys (ages 8 to 12) and she says she makes them go outside and play so they don't sit inside playing video games. I also pay them for odd chores. They will wash my car for me and clear leaves and debris.

Unknown said...

For education as to the real numbers:

U.S. Census Bureau

From those links:
3-5K "stranger danger" abductions in 2001.
80 million persons under the age of 18 (age of childhood for FBI statistical purposes).

That's 5 per 80 thousand or .00625%.

If you find my calculations are incorrect, please correct them.

"According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the number of serious abduction cases is consistent with last year's figures, but overall trends show an actual decline in such cases."

Cedarford said...

Amba - The comment about "filthy turtles" reminded me of an article I read somewhere that slum kids who played out on the filthy street (in America, that is, where the streets are not open sewers) had stronger immune systems than the "Lysol kids" whose mothers kept them away from germs, and who as a result were always getting sick because they had no resistance.

My mom let us put on old underwear and play in the mud, gutters and puddles after Chicago rainstorms. I don't know if there's any connection, but of the 6 of us -- born 1946 to 1959 -- none (knock on wood) has yet had a really serious illness.

Amba, same here. We had the same happy existence as grubby little kids cavorting in filth in the 70s and 80s. Were around animals and had exotic pets we "captured" like snapping turtles, a stray chicken, numerous dogs and cats and played on fields crapped on by geese, dogs, seagulls, what have you and sometimes got facefirst in the mess.

I never got sick. No flu, no real major GI things except "one-day trots". The "Lysol kids" I knew that were raised sheltered were the ones that caught diseases. Later, when I travelled in the military to truly exotic lands with different biota in the food, water I think my childhood bolstered my immune system. One infamous moment came when I was in Thailand and had 1000 bucks to buy up local food for the (large) crews mess. I bought all the fruits and peppers imaginable, fresh tuna and still had 600 bucks left. The prize was getting there right at the peak of strawberry harvest and getting a few hundred pounds of perfect strawberries. I tested all the stuff with no ill-effect, and was surprised when half the ship came down with severe dysentary and I had to see the Captain. It was the strawberrys. He let me off the hook when he learned I had eaten 2 pounds of them with no ill-effect before I bought them for crew.

But that was the end of the advance fleet officer purchasing food. They turned it over to some enlisted "Lysol chief Petty Officer" whose idea of exciting food was "milk and fresh eggs".

I'm a believer in kids wallowing in filth in play = adults with strong immune systems.
I'm also a believer that kids with weekly bruises, cuts, scrapes=them as adults being fast healers.

Kirk Parker said...

Synova (and Ruth),

I think I was reacting to the "5" part and glossing over the "and under". Sure, you can't expect a 5-year-old to babysit younger siblings, at least not to modern Western standards. So if your 5-, 4-, and 2-year old are out in the back yard together someone responsible needs to be with them. I don't want to overstate my point here, and would apologize if anyone took offense because they thought I was disapproving of people not turning their 2-year-olds loose.

But at the age of 5 per se? Seriously?

As far as my qualifications go, at that age I was walking myself to kindergarten and back at a distance of 6 blocks. My mother didn't escort me after the first day.

I've had 4 5-year-olds of my own. All of them have survived to adulthood; the youngest is now 19. The oldest, when he was 5, did what wandering he did in rural Southern Sudan, which has at least as many poisonous snakes and other noxious things as Louisiana or anywhere else in the US! It's not that he wandered far, of course, but neither did we hover over him and watch every move. As long as he was within a reasonable distance from the house, he was fine.

OK, there was the time when he was about 5 1/2, when we heard him hollering from quite a distance before we could see him, and when we did--you couldn't even see his face under all the blood! It turned out he and his 7-yo friend had been throwing rocks up into a mango tree to knock fruit down (the mango trees there are the size of the largest oak you've ever seen) and a rock came back down on him and got him on the head, opening up a scalp vein. Lots of profuse bleeding, but easy to stop and no other damage. Of course we told the kids to go easy on the mango trees, but we didn't restrict him to the house or porch or anything like that.

The other concession I'd make is that it does matter based on the individual. None of our kids had much of an oral fixation, but we had a neighbor whose daughter at a surprisingly late date still put everything in the great outdoors (and the small cleaning closet) into her mouth. They were on a first-name basis with all the nurses at the local poison-control center hotline. Of course they had to watch her more closely than we did any of ours.

But as a far as blanket statement about 5-year olds being a complete danger to themselves, that's going way too far.

Anonymous said...

About those bruises, Cedarford-

Years ago I had to take my very active four year-old daughter in for a check-up with an Army (Harvard trained) doctor, and when I apologized for the bruises all over her legs, he told me that they were a good sign. It was the kids without some bruises, scratches and scabs that he worried about, as they were often unhealthy or withdrawn.

I asked him about mine running around outside with her shoes off- other mothers gave me no end of grief- and he laughed. Said they didn't get it, that children learn through feeling the dirt, little pebbles, blades of grass and even concrete with their bare feet. He and his wife had four wonderful kids a couple of doors down from our quarters- all of whom were creative, positive and very grounded.

TMink said...

Kirk wrote: "But as a far as blanket statement about 5-year olds being a complete danger to themselves, that's going way too far."

Agreed. I am not sure anyone was worried about the small children being a danger to themselves. I make sure that they are not easy prey.


Nataraj Hauser said...

As far as my qualifications go, at that age I was walking myself to kindergarten and back at a distance of 6 blocks. My mother didn't escort me after the first day.

Same here, in Madison, WI, even crossing a busy street (there was an adult crossing guard). During playtime I had to remain within hollering distance (until I became smart enough to know when to be within hollering distance). The entire neighborhood was my oyster, and like many who posted here, we ran, biked, 'rassled, peed outdoors, got filthy, bruised, cut, and occassionally beat up. I learned to ice skate the same year I learned to walk. Guns? Knives? Drugs? All present, and learned to be avoided. Guess what? As an adult today, I have a really good bullsh*t meter and spot potentially bad situations looong before my more sheltered pals do. And like others posted, I'm almost never sick with colds, flu, or other ick.

Step away from the lysol, cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of childhood.

Jennifer said...

From reading all of your posts, I'm thinking we've been really lucky in the neighborhoods we've lived in. We set up the slip n' slide in the front yard this afternoon and within about 30 minutes we had a total of 9 kids out there with us. The last two neighborhoods we lived in before that (in 2 different states) were the same way.