Thursday, June 21, 2007

Where are all the kids?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - when I was young, in other words - summer vacation meant being outside. Actually just about every day of the year meant being outside seeing as I grew up in the Los Angeles area. No snow, no ice, no sub-zero temps - all the kids on the block spent most of our free time outside.

We played a lot of basketball, a lot of catch and baseball (in the street, no less), and I was blessed with my very own thetherball for a birthday one year and I spent many an hour whomping that ball back and forth. We all had skates or skateboards (or sometimes both) and would ride them all over the neighborhood, to the drugstore to buy comics, to the beach, and just anywhere we wanted to go. Even I, the dedicated bookworm, would do a lot of my reading outside, under a tree, or sitting on the back patio. My hubby, Mr. Bluebird, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and had a similar childhood where he spent hours playing outside with his friends, climbing trees, building forts, throwing balls, and riding bikes. And we were city kids growing up in urban areas.

So the other day Mr. Bluebird and I are out in the front yard, watering, pulling weeds, and all that fun stuff when he looks over at me and says, "Did you ever notice that we never see kids playing outside?"

He's right. We rarely see the neighborhood kids playing outside. And I know we have neighborhood kids because there's a school bus stop right by the foot of my driveway, and I've actually seen a number of kids outside once in a blue moon mowing lawns, or getting out of vehicles when mom and dad pull up in the driveway. The schools in this area are so overcrowded that they're opening a new middle school this fall and a new high school and elementary the following year, so there must be kids living nearby. Every once in a while we'll see a kid or two on a bike, or a few on skateboards, but there's no water balloon fights, no games of catch, no games of basketball (despite the fact that nearly every house has a basketball hoop), no hide and go seek, no tag. It's like some weird Ray Bradbury story where all the children are hidden away somewhere.

I'm hoping that they're all away at camp, and some of the little ones are at day care, but I suspect that's not the case. I'm guessing that our world is so crazy that a lot of these kids are, essentially, under house arrest until mom and dad get home from work. Or perhaps they don't want to be outside and are content to just sit at home, playing video games, cruising My Space, or texting their friends.

Every year I get a new crop of seventh graders and every year I am astounded at how physically unfit they are, how uncoordinated they are, and how pudgy they are. They have little familiarity with nature, with the outdoors, and with anything outside of a video game. It was so bad that this year, at the end of the school year, Mrs. Language and I played a pick-up basketball game with some of our students and just kicked their butts. We were astounded that two ladies in their 40's were more coordinated and in better shape than a bunch of 13-year olds.

That's sad. And makes me worry more and more about the kind of future these kids are going to have.


NYC Educator said...

Maybe air-conditioning isn't an unconditional blessing after all.

HappyChyck said...

On lockdown until mom and dad come home? Maybe. I keep a very close eye on my kids, but we live in an large apartment complex in a large city. There is a decent patch of grass outside, but my kids have "nothing to do" when they go outside. And sometimes I MAKE them go outside and hand them drinks and sandwiches out the door. Imaginations--and little bodies--need fresh air! I know there are 3 kids upstairs who NEVER come outside. Sometimes they'll stand on the balcony and talk to my kids, but they can't come down. Why? I always keep the door open and an ear out. When they stop making noise I check on them. Usually I can find them playing in the dirt or looking at bugs. If those kids could come down, my kids would want to go outside more often, and with 5 kids outside, nothing's going to happen to them. How easy this ball could roll!

ms-teacher said...

We live in a very good neighborhood, in a small cul-de-sac with very little car or foot traffic. That being said, my youngest usually plays in the backyard simply because it's safer back there. He has a trampoline, an above-ground pool, and a fort, and a swing set. He is now 11, but I still don't feel a hundred percent safe about letting him play out in the front yard by himself.