Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The good old days

My daughter loves learning about pioneers. She read one "Little House" book by Laura Ingalls Wilder and was hooked. She seems to be enthralled with all aspects of that time period from what they wore, to what they ate, to the crafts and farm work they did. I have learned much from her interest in pioneer life, as well. I am amazed at how they lived for many reasons. They worked so hard and never seemed to complain. They did without so many conveniences in life and yet persevered in their efforts to build their own life. One of the things that surprised me the most though, was the lack of supervision the children seemed to have.
Children were given very big responsibilities back then, to help out on the farm, or with the hunting, or with their younger siblings, and they were on their own, many times, to do it. There is an instance, in one of my daughter's books, of the parents going to town for the day and leaving their children, about 6 and 8 years old completely alone, for like 8 hours! They just left their children to their own defenses- in a time of Indian attacks, wild animals prowling around, and prairie fires breaking out without warning- and they thought nothing of it!
In our world, children are not left alone to do much of anything. They have their entire lives planned out and supervised every moment by well meaning adults. Children are enrolled in art classes, sports programs, after school activities and/or music lessons each and every day of the week. When they have a free day their parents set up playdates, through other parents, so they will not get bored or lonely. When they are not planning and scheduling, parents spend their time shuttling the children around to all these various appointments. Children are not allowed to play outside without someone watching for fear of strangers or pedophiles lurking around every corner. Every moment of our children’s lives seems to involve an adult making sure every thing is as it should be, in the child’s best interest. I wonder if this is all really in the child’s best interest. As crazy as it sounds to leave a 6 and 8 year old alone for an entire day, those children grew up just fine! They were respectful, and responsible. They did not abuse their parents trust, unlike many children I’ve met these days (my own included at times)!
I think we underestimate our children when we schedule every moment of their lives and refuse to leave them alone to play. In my experience, children, even in the year 2009, are still capable of amusing themselves, and are so often happier doing just that. They are still able to watch out for themselves, within reasonable and safe limitations. When given the opportunity, my children can play together for hours- out in the backyard, or with a bin of Legos, or with blank paper and markers- and not need a thing from me! They would rather play on their own, games of their own making than have me step in and plan an afternoon of intellectually stimulating activities.
I am grateful for a very simple life. My children are not involved in many activities outside of the house. We simply cannot afford much of that, but they are usually not asking me to amuse them either. Oh, occasionally I hear, “I’m bored.” But when I don’t respond by whisking them off to Chuck E. Cheese, or sticking a movie in the dvd player for them, they eventually find something worthwhile and productive to do with their time.
I am not suggesting we should go back in time to live like the pioneers. I enjoy my air conditioning and my computer too much for that. I don’t even think structured activities are all bad. I do think we need to allow our children to enjoy a lot more unstructured, unsupervised play time, though. What kids these days are really missing is an opportunity to just be kids. With more “down time” and more opportunity to be responsible for themselves, maybe they will more naturally grow into the dependable, resourceful adults we all want them to be.

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