Friday, September 12, 2008

Dead Tree

There are two parks within walking distance of our house. The one we usually go to is the "kids" park. It has an open field for assorted scurrying around and chasing games, a wading pool, some mysterious metal climbing / crawling equipment left over from the 60's, and a newer park area with modern, safe, clean lined equipment, safe for children ages 3 - 5, under adult supervision, who are not wearing clothing with drawstrings. Seriously, there are warnings on the play equipment. Everything is developmentally appropriate and has surely been tested on a battery of small 3 - 5 year olds under parental supervision using two way mirrors before it was allowed out into the real world (Quick, Jonny can get his head in between those bars! Make a note!).

The second one is a park that I am guessing dates back to the era of Participaction. Those of you who are younger, or not from Canada, would not be familiar with this movement. But in the 70s and 80s, there was this huge government push to get kids moving and active so as to later save on health care costs. This, of course, included something that has always amused me -- tv ads about excersise -- as well as swimming programs, skipping competitions and other weird non-competitive sporting activities. This park, for example, is basically a big plot of land with two artificial hills, and some strategic plantings of trees to encourage games of hide and seek and the like. It has a board as you enter that describes the fitness walk / run you can do around the park. You run, stop at the monkey bars, swing across them, run, stop at the sit up board (seriously, in the middle of a copse of spruce trees next to a park bench), do sit up, run, navigate the balance beam, run, do pull ups on the wood frame thing . . . you get the idea. Its a very silly park, which only gets used by my youth group on Friday nights when we're doing some ridiculous activity or wide game.

In our present circumstances, this park has a few advantages over the safe for 3 - 5 yr olds park. First, it has paved pathways, and surrounding those paved pathways it has trees, hills and open spaces. This means I can let Andrew bike around on the pathways, while still keeping him in my view (except when he is hidden behind a copse of strategically planted trees)and let Aaron run up and down the hills, play with sticks, and basically muck about without either slowing Andrew down or wandering into the oncoming traffic. We tried it for the first time today and it was a great success. We spent about an hour and a half meandering around. Andrew biked around on the pathways, and Aaron found a rare discovery: a dead tree stump.

Not only was the tree stump dead, but it had dry rotted to the point where he could pull it apart. Inside, we discovered, an abandoned insect colony had taken over the tree. Aaron spent about 20 min. pulling it apart and examining the stump. Andrew joined him, and the two boys spent an additional 30 min. pulling off pieces, checking out the tiny tunnels, trying to climb it (ok, only Aaron wanted to climb it - this has replaced "can I put it in my mouth?"test of earlier days), and generally mucking about. They were really sad when I realized it was 12:30 and we had to get home so I could feed them (though not as sad as I was when I realized Andrew was too tired to ride his bike home and I would have to carry his bike and tow both boys in the wagon).

This made me laugh, and think about how weird our culture is sometimes. Most parents wouldn't even let their kids touch the tree stump becuase it wasn't age appropriate or specially designed for playing with. It might be dirty or infested with bugs, or get a stain on their new Gap toddler jeans. They would have shooed their kids away and insisted instead that they walk the balance beam ( in order to properly develop their gross motor skills) or participate in a parent-led game of catch. We so carefully design and co-ordinate our children's play these days that we forget that we don't really have to do much at all. Play is actually what kids do naturally, with very little help from us.

It reminded me of when my friend Colleen and I (at age 4.5) spent a whole week melting snow into this puddle to make a giant "lake" puddle. Or when I used to make doll clothes for my Strawberry Shortcake dolls out of lilac leaves, feed them poppy seeds off of lilac plates and make them tiny stick tables and chairs. What great, imaginative times these were. I'm so glad I had so few toys that were specially tested and carefully designed to meet my developmental needs.

What is your favorite memory of playing with next to nothing?

1 comment:

Beck said...

cops and robbers. we played it on bikes, but then we'd get off our bikes too and play it. We didn't have "fake guns" or handcuffs we just had our wits, our bikes, and our legs. It was about excluding the "cops" or trying to find the "robbers". It was the best. We would dive into ditches, make campouts in the woods, make someones front porch the police office, and various other things. Sometimes it's best to just use your imagination.