Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Free-range children--Is THAT what we were?...

By columnist Rose Moore, Gazette Newspapers, Wednesday, 04 March 2015 

I KNOW WHAT free-range cattle are, and I know as well what free-range chickens are. But free-range children--what are they?
I have heard that phrase bandied about a lot lately in discussions and debates about child-raising and education, as some parents are beginning to rebel against over-organized childhood practices and work-heavy school practices, while others are campaigning for even tougher standards.
Often the type of childhood many of us "old-timers" experienced is brought into the talking points, for better or worse. In those debates, the "free-range" expression has come to the fore from people who are horrified at the thought that so much of a child's day would be devoted to non-academic and non-organized activities.
I don't know about others who were parts of those "free-range children" generations, but I was personally offended at how often I would hear my childhood referred to in a way that put me in the category of livestock!
YES, IT'S TRUE... Child's play in my time was different, just as society was different. But I assure you we weren't raised like animals.
We had responsibilities and rules. We weren't spoiled, pampered and rude. We had respect for our elders and our neighborhoods and our communities. And through our "child's play," things were learned that served us well in later years.
Our play was free-form, spontaneous, unorganized, unplanned... fueled by our own imaginations. It cultivated our creativity, joy and flexibility, and it fostered many other saving graces we would need in later life. That included cooperation; we learned to understand each other's differences; our sometime-squabbles were mostly settled without grownups' interference. When there was bullying, it also was usually resolved without interference.
We learned to plan and make decisions for ourselves, and this was miraculously established without the set patterns produced by grownups had we, instead, been lodged in nursery school to play "by order and on schedule"...
Our "child's play" was accidental therapy that would bolster us through many seasons of our lives, endowing us with an inborn sense of laughter, fun, spontaneity and humor---a special currency for us to draw on in our later years; it would become as valuable as money tucked away for our retirement.
There were chores for us as well, required by our parents throughout the year; they were our responsibility as members of the family and community.
We did housework, yard work, garden work, snow-shoveling and more. Often we did such chores for neighbors who might need a hand, and the work and play provided all the physical activities we really needed to stay fit.
SADLY NOW, WE'RE seeing that the children of today are suffering stress and emotional problems at ever-younger ages.
School begins almost in babyhood, beginning as child-care while parents are at work. Kindergarten is preceded by PRE-kindergarten...
By first grade, youngsters are learning to work toward and worry about the "Big T's" ---those looming all-important proficiency tests that strike real fear and seem to take a lot of the joy out of learning. Midway through grammar school, kids are pondering careers, and by middle school are beginning to worry about college...
Their recreational activities, organized and pre-planned by adults, are darkly shaded with the pressure of winning. In sports, our kids learn "sportsmanship" from adults who misbehave in the bleachers and insult other parents and even the officials.
Hours of homework every day during the school year, coupled with year-round sedentary electronic games, have led to obesity at an early age, when children's metabolisms are usually in high gear.
I SAY THESE KIDS are missing something that can be important to their lives; as important in its way as their years in academia. And that "something" is a time for child's play; a time to just be children. A time and way to learn some basic things that can nurture human beings all through life.
Even when, like me, they've reached their older years.
(Yes, Rose is a grandmother but she still believes in play).