I beam as my three year old son leads us through a snow filled forest. His thirst for adventure, knowledge, humour, and control on full display. Admiring the way he stops to check out the innocuous, I can hardly think of anything I would rather be doing. We hardly notice the sub-zero temperatures and uneven terrain. Bobbing, weaving, and breaking branches along the way brings back memories of a time when outdoor play was the norm not the exception.
After collecting numerous sticks, marking our territory with ferocious snow angels, and partaking in an impromptu game of hide and seek, we turn for home. Sticking to the worn path this time, we are met by two seven year old boys. Silently, I remark how great it is to see young kids alone traipsing through the woods free of their parents’ gaze. I was almost certain this sort of thing never happened anymore. Aside from this rare encounter, we are alone in the woods. The quietness is needed, but I’m left wondering where everyone else is on this beautiful day. Do kids build forts and hop across rivers anymore?
Aside from time spent on homework, chores, and eating why don’t children play outdoors more?
I truly don’t think electronics are to blame. We grew up with TV and video games and still managed to get outside to play and also be involved in organized activities. Thus, it seems possible to play video games and be active in sports and outdoor play. One doesn’t have to displace the other.
I love sport, and played many of them as a kid, but wonder if the popularity and pervasiveness of organized activities of any kind take away from unorganized outdoor (family) play. Do the two types of activities need to compete? No. Does it seem as though they do compete for most families? Yes.
How is Eli doing?
Great, he’s playing hockey again this year.
Oh, cool. I bet he loves it. I see pictures of him smiling on Facebook wearing his hockey gear.
Yeah. Well, I wish he was more interested and tried harder.
At first glance it is hardly surprising that parents would choose organized sport over other activities. Many parents grew up playing sport and want their kids to have the same experience. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. Maybe that is the case, or maybe we are just trying to mold them into a better version of ourselves. Sport also provides a convenient way for parents to connect with their kids. It’s much easier to put your kid into your favourite sport than learn about something you know nothing about like playing guitar or acting. But is it the best way to connect?
On a high from the experience of hiking with my son, I think to the future and wonder how to make this last forever. How much longer will we get to do this together before I drop him off to play my favourite sport and watch him play.
(Driving down the road, radio plays quietly)
Ohh daddy, it’s Eddie Vedder! Turn it up!
Smiling, I say yes, of course.
The sweet sounds of the air guitar fill the car.
Returning home, tired and satisfied I sink down into my chair by the fireplace. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, a post shared by a colleague of mine gets my attention.
I comment: Love it. I’ve thought about this too. Another one – we worship male singers and actors, but boys who sing or act get made fun of or have lower social status.
(several months later)
What should we put him in this summer?
How about guitar or singing lessons? He really loves music.
How about baseball?
OK, sounds good.