Do video games and increased screen time signal the impending death of childhood in our society? What happens when children are deprived of outdoor play in nature? These questions are tackled in the new documentary film “Play Again“, by Ground Productions, which is currently being screened around the country. I’m hoping it will come close to my town so I can see it soon, rather than having to wait for it to come out on Netflix. I’ve enjoyed the small clips I’ve seen so far, and was particularly chilled by some footage that shows 3 and 4-year-old kids identifying commercial logos, like Apple and XBox, but unable to do the same for a single type of plant.
It sometimes feels like an enormous battle to try and fight against the intense commercialization of childhood. We really limit what the kiddo sees in terms of television, even so-called “educational” programs, because we are trying to set habits that will lead him away from situations where he’ll watch program after program and commercial after commercial. However, we already notice that he is drawn to the screens. Sean and I are both borderline computer-holics during the week, and often spend our evenings working on our respective projects. Already we see our son trying to imitate us, grabbing at the laptop, and the remote control, and reaching for our glowing cell-phones. We will most likely have to look at limiting our own project work time to after he is in bed in order to be better role models for screen-free time. But this is our culture, and we aren’t quite sure how to walk away from it. I know that he will have friends and go other places where he’ll watch shows and play games we don’t like, and he’ll be influenced by friends to buy-buy-buy. It’s a tricky situation. We will try to counter it as much as possible with time outside, time spent creating and imagining and exploring in the woods fields and shorelines we are lucky enough to have access to.
There is a memorable quote in the clip above from the director of the Nature Conservancy, “What they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” THIS is the reason we do what we do, why we get outside every chance, and bring the kiddo out into the backyard to roll on the grass, and into the mountains, despite the snow and mud and bugs. This is why we will pack him into a canoe and paddle him all over the northeast, even before he can walk: the enduring hope that he will learn to value and protect the natural world around him, despite the odds.
This was what we were up to only 2 weeks before we had 80 degree beach weather! Photo by Sean Donohue 2012
I live in New England, which means that even though it has edged into the eighties a few times in the last few weeks, I’m not sure I can get away with declaring that our outing last weekend involved the “last of the snow”, but I certainly hope that’s the case. Our little man-cub had a great time rolling around in the snowbanks with the dog, but is still confused by his mittens. He has outgrown his snowsuit, so we had to improvise and put a second set of mittens on his feet. I just tucked the thumbs in to keep them from catching on something, and he was good to go.
Around here we are gearing up for spring sports, which in our case means hiking and paddling. Since I was pregnant last year at this time, I haven’t done much paddling other than sit in a canoe in over a year, so it will take a bit of work to get my skills back in line enough to prepare for some of the trips we have planned for the summer. Each trip we have planned is supposed to be an easy one; some go to islands less than a mile from the put-in, some involve easy treks down flatwater. But, much like the weather itself, the easiest trip can become a challenge if the wind kicks in, or there is a lot of rain, or something critical in the gear fails, so I am beginning both a physical and a skills-based tune-up. I’ve been going through drybags, planning meals, and researching the few critical pieces of baby gear, such as a life jacket, that we still need to buy. I’ll get out on the water with Sean a few times in the next few weeks and work out the kinks on some warm-up paddles.
So far the kiddo loves any and all water he’s come into contact with. Our goal for the summer is to keep it that way…
I’ve seen this article , published by the UK newspaper The Daily Mail, popping up all over the place on the internet lately, and it always makes me pause. The article describes a report published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that looks at the distance from home that subsequent generations of children were allowed to wander on their own. As you can see in the illustration, which shows the range of children in four generations of the same family, kids today are lucky to be able to wander a few hundred yards from their own front doors, compared to the range of several miles that their great-grandparents were allowed.
This hits home. Every time I think about my own son and where I’ll allow him to go, I wonder if I can manage to be as permissive as I want to be. As a child, I lived in a rural setting surrounded by fields and woods. I often wandered by myself in our own yard and the hayfields bordering it. As I got older, I rode my bike a few miles to friends’ houses, or went on long nature walks into the woods near my home. Now, my family lives in a more suburban environment with a lot of traffic. I can’t say I’m comfortable with the kiddo wandering very far on his own. If we lived in a wilder place I would want him to have the kinds of adventures I did, but it still makes me nervous.
In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv documented research that showed that the dangers of children being abducted or molested have not increased in the last 50 years, but the media hype associated with them has, and this is one of the main reasons parents restrict children’s movements. I would add concern about injury and getting lost to this, even though I know that as a kid I rarely lost my way, and only sustained minor injuries during my wanderings. But what ifcan be a nerve-wracking thought.
Where we live is not very kid-friendly. There is a playground within walking distance, but to get there you have to cross a busy road. There are no sidewalks. A lot of other parks in our area have rules about how old children have to be to go there by themselves, and I expect I’d get a call from the police if I let my son play on his own. Our society has created so many barriers to children’s’ freedom, it seems like fighting a losing battle. I think my family is going to have to set some priorities, and decide if the convenience of our current location is enough. I think we are going to have to head to the woods if we want the kiddo to have the same kinds of independent experiences we had when we were young.
The other night I escaped our still-germy house and made it to our local showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. As always, I left feeling excited and energized about getting outside and trying something new. One of the short films we saw was a biopic by Sender Films about 9-year-old Ashima Shiraishi, a two-time American Bouldering Series junior national champion from New York City, and her coach Obe Carrion. Ashima is a gifted climber who astounds everyone who watches her. At one point in the film, Ashima travels to Heuco Tanks, Texas, a bouldering hotspot, and manages to climb a V11. The focus with which she tackles the problem stunned me and my fellow moviegoers. At just over four feet tall, she had to muster incredible creativity to think her way around problems that others managed to solve with a long reach or a dynamic move. This girl is powerful and inspiring. The clip above shows some of her most recent ABS competition.
Parental Advisory: In the first few seconds of this film there is a quick photo still of a young Obe flipping off the camera and the narration has a swear or two. If you want to show this video to your own young climber, just jump ahead to the 25 second mark.
Laughing at tiny snowflakes. Photo by Sean Donohue 2012
It seems like we’ve had nothing but rain this winter, at least until this morning, when flurries of perfectly developed little snowflakes started falling all over the seacoast. We are on the tail end of about 3 weeks of everyone in the house being sick with something or other, so we were excited to escape our germ factory and flee for the seashore for a bit of fresh air. The horizon was blurry with snow, and we could barely make out the hulking shape of the lighthouse guarding the entrance to the river.
I’ll admit it, though it will send shudders down the spines of all my teleskiing fanatic friends: winter is not my favorite time of year. I can appreciate it in small bursts. I love the crystalline beauty of a morning following a storm, and spent many hours as a kid playing in the frosty woods behind my house, following the tracks of field mice to see where they went, always hoping to see evidence of wildlife drama. I tried winter mountaineering, but that ended after one weekend outing where my eyelids froze shut. So nowadays I’ll bundle up to take the kiddo for walks, or hit the beach for some ice bocce, or get excited about our annual xc skiing weekends, but other than that, I’m dreaming of summer.
This is where the New England Aquarium comes in. Right before New Year’s we decided to brave the icy weather and head south to the aquarium to introduce the kiddo to some fish. To beat the crowds, we got there right as the doors opened at 9am, which meant that we had a good two hours until the perfect storm of Liam’s attention span and the overcrowding of a winter break weekday hit. In that time, we watched the kiddo become fascinated by the silvery fish zipping past him. He also seems to have developed a bit of a penguin obsession.
Oh, and the best part? Now they have a shark and ray touch tank. Frankly, this part was all about me. Liam’s fingers are far too little to dangle in a touch tank, but mine sure weren’t. Rays are rather slimy, but still pretty darn cool.
I like this picture because it makes me look like I hike much faster than I actually do. Photo Sean Donohue 2011
There’s a cold wind blowing outside that signals the end of our tenting season for the year, and is making me think fondly back to our first family camping trip in September, the last time it was warm enough to wear shorts in the woods. I’ll be posting a story soon about our last attempt at camping out which resulted in a long drive home late at night, but in the meantime, we are packing up our summer gear, putting away the canoes and kayaks, and starting the traditional winter trip planning season, where we pour over maps and dream about long summer days on the water. This next year we will have the added excitement of introducing the Kiddo to the canoe. In the meantime, we have a bunch of day hikes, ski trips and rustic cabin camping to keep us busy until iceout. Bring it on!