We go to a lot of parks. I think it’s important for children to have the opportunity to spend time outside playing. No matter what amenities various parks have, the natural amenities are the things which draw my children in. My kids love to play with sticks, acorns, and rocks and to dig in the dirt. Whether they are making mud cookies for plants or a house for little gnomes, their imaginations have no bounds.
Sadly, most of the kids we see at parks aren’t allowed to have free play. Parents and caregivers are reminding them of how to properly use playground equipment, to hurry up, or not to get dirty. My kids are the ones sharing their newly acquired stick collection with those less fortunate children – the ones without any snazzy new sticks.
Last year I had taken my children to one of our favorite parks. It has the typical playground equipment, although with a nature feel to it. However, the exciting aspect is that it has lots and lots of trees to run around. Sticks and leaves are plentiful and can be used for all forms of creative play. It’s a little oasis in an area filled with concrete parks with generic playground equipment.
Par for my children, they were in the midst of play, a pile of sticks in hand. Other children, curious as to what mine were doing, were coming up to them to peek. My older son was dutifully offering sticks to the curious onlookers who, eyes full of wonder, grasped the sticks as if they had never held one. The group was gathering and the game was becoming more intricate when one little girl came up. My son offered her a stick and she squated, digging in the dirt.
The children were playing when the little girl’s grandmother came up. She demanded that the girl put down the stick and go play. Of course, the girl was engrossed in her digging. Next the grandmother threatened that they would leave if the little girl didn’t go play. When the girl replied that she was playing, the grandmother threatened to hit her for talking back. The other kids scattered and my children looked to me, confused by what was going on. I suggested we go down and look at the ducks, conveniently away from the scene.
I’m forced to wonder about a world where a four year old girl can’t pay with sticks and dirt at the park.
That is a sad story but consider you don’t know what the grandmother was going through. Perhaps she was having a bad day; perhaps she herself had been raised in an authoritarian fashion. Perhaps she apologized later to her grandchild or took her out for another playdate or bought her a new toy to make amends.
I don’t think this grandmother’s actions mean a whole heck of a lot about “[our] world” today. I see so many children playing outside in the dirt (including my own) and I think that’s here to stay.
It’s true I don’t know what the grandmother was thinking or going through. She may have been having a bad day, but I don’t think that is an excuse for threatening to hit a child. Most people I know would cherish time when their child (or grandchild) was actively engaged in creative and active play if they were having a bad day so that they could collect themselves or at least have a minute to themselves.
While we tend to hang out with families who encourage creative play and have kids who play in dirt with sticks, etc., that isn’t the norm here. All too often when we are out, we hear caregivers barking out orders on how children should be playing.
Very few people would “excuse” a threat to a child. Unfortunately most parents and carers at one time or another make threats (physical, verbal, emotional, etc).
I hear a lot of people barking orders to children where I live too. But in a weird way it’s also more kid-friendly than where I used to live (a community that prided itself on being “progressive”). I found where I used to live there were more restrictions on where children were “allowed” in public; here (larger range of socio-economic populations, racially more diverse) kids are everywhere and although people parent differently, it’s also more publicly obvious how they parent. I think where I used to live there were more hidden tensions and behind-closed-doors twistedness.
On a side note I’m curious as to why you haven’t responded to any of my other blog comments before today?
If I happen to see a comment with a question, or a need for clarification, or for another reason, I try to respond. Unfortunately (or, fortunately for my children), this blog just isn’t a very high priority, so I don’t respond to comments very often.
I think it’s great that kids still play in dirt where you live. This was true where we used to live, and as I mentioned, here we tend to hang out with families who play in the dirt, too.
I think that the dirt symbolizes more than just the physical aspect of getting dirty. It symbolizes creative free play, which is definitely lacking in this area of the country.
Very sad. I love it when my kids play in the dirt or the wet and enjoy themselves. When I drop my daughter off at kindergarden she and the daycare kids I look after play on the grass, roll down the hill, get a bit wet if it’s been raining, etc. Other moms call out for their kids to stop playing because they’ll get their clothes dirty and it’s not like I let my kids get filthy so they can’t be in school – none of the kids are getting that way – they’re just playing!!! I listen to these moms call out and my daughter will look at me to see if she has to stop too, and I say “no, no, you can keep playing sweetie. You’re having lots of fun and a little wet/dirt won’t hurt anything.” I want the parents to hear me. 🙂