The first day of summer always arrives shortly before the last day of school.
Summer vacation didn’t always mean getting away but it always meant getting outside. The house was merely a rest stop for sandwiches, Kool-Aid and bedtime and, if we hung around too long, we were “given something to do.”
So it was with great interest I recently read an article about some communities installing Playboxes in their parks.
Inside these boxes are not just toys — hula hoops, balls, rackets, skipping ropes, to name a few — but also instructions for many of these classic children’s games, such as Simon Says or What Time is it Mr. Wolf?
It seems that in recent years, children have been given more and more electronic games for birthdays or Christmas, so when we encourage them to get outside and into the parks they have nothing to play with.
They don’t have the balls or outdoor toys to keep themselves busy and a lot of them have never played children’s games.
By putting the instructions into the box, with diagrams how to set up nets or lay out bases, the children can figure out what they are expected to do, outside, in a park.
Dr. Shazhan Amed, an investigator with the Child and Family Research Institute, said the idea is to bring kids back to playing together.
“Children and families have forgotten how to play actively. When we learned games and songs, songs we used to jump rope to, for example, it was the older kids that taught me that.
“But because kids have stopped playing, it sort of became obsolete,” Amed said.
Other psychologists are now re-thinking the structured play time. Most experts agree that kids should have twice as much unstructured free time as structured playtime.
Every child is different, but as Dr. Ken Ginsburg, a leading expert on resilience, says, “What every child needs is free, unscheduled time to master his or her environment.”
This means less math camp and more games of endless summertime scrub.
We had taped-up bats and baseballs with the stitches coming undone. Burlap sacks were bases and no one had a set of rules — the rules were made up as the game went along. As a matter of fact, changing the rules constantly, so your little brother or sister could never win, prepared them for life when the government or the boss moved the goal posts just as they thought they were winning.
The games started in the morning with the dew still on the grass and went until it was too dark to see whatever you were kicking or throwing.
Then, each child would listen for their Mom’s distinctive voice or Dad’s unique whistle and we would head home, ready to start all over again tomorrow.
We invented games, using our imaginations and whatever was available. A soccer ball could also be a volleyball or a dodge ball.
Trees were for climbing or building tree forts and we never built them from blueprints.
After dark we played flashlight tag or chased fireflies and I have never seen instructions explaining how to do either one. And who the heck came up with rules and regulations for kids’ birthday parties?
So if you see a kid in the park with a skipping rope in one hand and a sheet of instructions in the other, for Pete’s sake, stop and show them how it’s done.
At least that’s what McGregor says.