Interesting idea from out West – use landscape photography to get kids into nature….June 12, 2008
Here it is……June 18, 2008
The nature of childhood
By Dana Hull
Article Launched: 05/26/2008 01:32:09 AM PDT
Wendolyn Bird’s preschool classroom is the outdoors. Recently she and her charges hiked to a rocky island in Palo Alto’s Foothills Park. For three hours, they just hang out: something many suburban children, whose lives are dictated by “play dates” and soccer practice, rarely do anymore.
Suddenly, Brody and NiccolÃ³ come crashing through the brush, breathless with delight.
“WE SAW A LIZARD!” they screech. “WE SAW A LIZARD!”
As summer approaches and Wii sales climb toward 10 million, a growing number of parents and children’s advocates worry that child-driven, unstructured play – time spent exploring creeks and climbing trees without computer screens or adults hovering like helicopters nearby – is vanishing from the lives of many children.
The shift is so worrisome that many Bay Area parents and advocates like Bird are pushing back. They’re forming a loosely organized “movement” to bring play back from the brink that some call “Leave No Child Inside.”
There are many reasons behind the erosion of play. Some parents fear horrible – but unlikely – accidents. The college admissions race fuels “rÃ©sumÃ© building” activities like violin lessons and science camps from an early age. And the electronic creep of television and video games affects younger and younger children.
“Everyone remembers their mother saying, ‘Just go outside and play, and don’t come home until supper.’ You never hear that
anymore,” said Joan Almond of the Alliance for Childhood in Maryland. “Looking back, outdoor play away from adults was the norm. Today children aren’t given the freedom to do that.”
Advocates say playing outside promotes physical fitness, creativity and teaches children how to negotiate conflicts. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have “ample, unscheduled, independent, non-screen time to be creative, to reflect, and to decompress.”
Still, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that one-third of children age 6 and under have television sets in their bedroom. Kaiser has also found that 83 percent of young children spend an average of two hours a day using electronic media.
In response, the field of “playwork” – professionals trained to “facilitate play” – is a growing academic discipline. “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” is a national bestseller. And in typical Silicon Valley fashion, a Palo Alto father has launched Playborhood, a blog ranking the play-friendliness of neighborhoods.
“I drive around Palo Alto in the afternoons and on the weekends, and no one is out,” said Mike Lanza, who has a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old. “If you go to where the kids are, it’s sports fields. It’s not like the free fun we had when I was a kid.”
Lanza’s favorite childhood memories include building a treehouse, pick-up hoops and hiking through a neighbor’s stream.
“My childhood was just a different time. We can’t turn back the clock, but I want my kids to have fun and to have autonomy,” said Lanza, 45. “They can’t do that if they are driven from activity to activity or sitting inside playing video games.”
Stanford University School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek notes that education trends often swing wildly from one extreme to the other.
“You can walk up stairs and count them or collect leaves,” said Stipek. “There’s no excuse for not spending a lot of time outside in California, and some kids are over-structured. But a lot of kids have too little structure, and they don’t have anything to do after school.”
Bird’s Tender Tracks preschool is totally outdoors: Parents drop off their children at a Palo Alto park with lunch and a change of clothes. The kids then pile into Bird’s rumbling white van for adventures. The parents who sign up tend to be outdoorsy types themselves.
“When I was a kid, we ran in a pack. There were about 16 of us, and we played games like hide-and-seek and found turtles and frogs in the creek,” said Natalie Simison, who grew up in Palo Alto.
Simison knew Tender Tracks would be a perfect match for Brody, 3 – the youngest of her four kids. Over time Simison has learned not to fret about the what-ifs: What if he falls in the lake? What if he falls from the tree?
“I don’t worry about the falls. I feel like: Let them do it, and let them suffer the consequences,” she said. “That’s how they learn.”
But sometimes she’s alone.
“A skinned knee is not a problem for me,” Simison said. “But a lot of parents try to prevent everything. They don’t want to ever hear their kid cry.”
Or worse. After a recent outing, Bird warned parents that the kids might have poison oak from their park romp.
Foothills Park is a favorite destination. There are lizards to chase, rocks to climb, sticks to gather. Plus, they can paint.
Pippa pours water onto the ground to make mud paint. Before long, a brown rainbow takes shape on her belly.
Everyone joins in. Mud is smeared on stomachs, in hair and on faces. Shoes and socks are flung. Brody goes primal: Mud covers the entire top half of his body.
On the way home, the children say thanks for their day.
“Thanks for the dead fish that I saw,” Gabriel says.
“Thanks for the beautiful flowers I picked,” Casey says.
“Thanks for the time I fell in the water,” Corinne says.
Contact Dana Hull at dhull@ mercurynews.com or (408) 920-2706.