Unlike many children today, I was reared in a time and place where my parents expected us to be out the door as soon as breakfast was over, maybe return for lunch, then back outside. We'd usually leave with the warning to be on time for dinner ending with the words, "Be in by dark."
My friends' and my favorite park was a half mile away. When the “big kids” would let one of us play in their never ending whiffle ball game, we played in the street. The corners of each block served as bases; home was in the middle of the street. When we were thirsty we drank from a garden hose.
Admittedly, our adventures were not all that well-rounded because most of our activities centered around sports. Although there was very limited adult intervention, most of us knew enough about the rules of the games that we could maintain some semblance of order.
My colleagues Wendy Jotch and Lisa Bianco have shared Angela Hanscom’s book, "Balanced and Barefoot," which focuses on the health benefits of children having outdoor play. I will be encouraging all the teachers of young children and our PE teachers to read the book this summer. In fact, I am thinking this is a book we should give to every new parent with a child in Experiential and Lower Schools.
Those of us who spend time with young people or who observe young children often, know that something has changed over the years. Hanscom's book is loaded with research that touches on those changes. Young children are not as strong, they do not take physical risks and they do not enjoy free play as much as previous generations. The efforts to protect children from potential and assumed dangers is resulting in some developmental deficiencies that are keeping Occupational Therapists both busy and puzzled.
The book jogged a memory of a summer camp that my son attended when he was in Lower School in Atlanta. Josh Powell Camp, (I just looked it up, it is still operating) was a place where kids wore their dirtiest clothes because by the end of the day, they tested any claim that Tide or any other laundry product might expose. The campers built forts, played games, played sports, mostly in mud. The went swimming in a lake to wipe off the mud and then they got back in the mud until it was time to board the bus and come home. I hope it hasn’t changed.
Each year Mr. Murphy, along with Senior Class Sponsor Erich Schneider, takes a group of students hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains for Service Week.
While in college I had the opportunity to student teach and work at the Outdoor Center at Glen Helen in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The experience changed my life and launched many of my current avocations which include birding, hiking and backpacking. I learned that there was much more to outdoor play than bats, balls and 100-yard fields. I still love athletics and sporting events, but I realize my mind gets tested and stretched differently when I am in a forest hiking, in a kayak paddling, or searching for birds and other creatures.
Summer is coming. The efforts of parents to set limits on screen time and to establish expectations for free play, reading, building and face-to-face social interaction will result in children who are healthier, stronger and ready to learn. The families here and at independent schools around the country make a huge investment in the education of their children. Summer can be a break and at the same time a chance to recharge the brain, build motor skills and make use of all the skills that were learned or developed in the past school year.
Get out there. Play, move, and explore!
Shorecrest offers a number of educational and play-based summer programs that include plenty of time for outdoor and active play. Programs run May 30-August 4, open to students in PK-12th grade. Before and after care is available. Learn more: