Do Kids Have Time to “Day Dream” or “Free Play” Anymore?

As we have established, I grew up in the South and I am an only child. As a kid, I had countless hours that I had to occupy by myself. We did not have video games (at home), access to a computer, cell phones, ipads or any electronic devices that now absorb most of the free time kids have today, if they have any free time at all.

We had video “arcades” and movie theaters, but these were specials treats. Our one and only television had three channels and required an antenna, also known as “rabbit ears.” (This meant that I had to stand by the TV with the antenna, with aluminum foil attached to the antenna, and move the antenna around until my dad said we had reception.)

What did we do with our time? We went outside! My mom would shove me out the door at dawn on a Saturday and tell me not to come back until I needed food. We lived in a suburban area that did allow us some places to play and many green spaces to run. Sometimes we would hike to our school and play on the playground equipment. We played “cops and robbers”, “cowboys and Indians” and hide and seek until we were starving.

Back then it was safe to allow your kids to walk to the convenience store. We would troop down the long side walk to the Seven-Eleven store about two miles from our condo. As we walked to and from the store, we made up stories about the things we saw and the people that would pass us in cars. You had plenty of time during the walk to discuss just which candy or sweet treat you were going to buy once we made it to the store. Do you remember the candy necklaces that were pure, colored sugar on an elastic string that you could put around your neck? You would put the necklace around your neck and then you were able to stretch the necklace to your mouth to bite off one ring at a time. Did you notice that later in the day, the candy rings started to taste like sweat? Mine did. Do you remember how the die in the necklace candies would start to stain your neck after a few hours?

We would eventually tire out from playing, then lay in the dirt on the bare ground and stare at the sky. We played “cloud games” and made up stories for our “cloud characters.” We made mud pies and dared each other to eat them. We would find large sticks and branches and would have “soldier wars.” We would see who could carry the most rocks in our pockets and then move to the bend of our shirts, like grocery bags, to gather as many rocks as we could hold.

One day, we got a new washer and dryer. I got to keep the boxes the appliances came in! Score! My friends and I would paint them, make a fort and have secret passwords, then have “private” meetings about club business. We would make up “clubs” and you had to be a “member” to come inside the fort. This was not fun if you were not a “member.”

We would ride our bikes down big hills and see how far you could go with your feet off the pedals and hands in the air. We did not wear helmets, because we did not know any better. We made wooden ramps to jump our bikes off of to see how far you could go. We would trade bikes and go off the ramps again to see how we managed each other’s “rides.” We crashed a lot.

Did you ever have lawn darts, or a bow and arrow set with steel tipped arrows? We did! We would put a little kid up against a tree with an apple on their head. Then, one kid got to use the bow and arrow to shoot the apple off their head. If you missed the apple, you would shoot another arrow. Try to find these in a toy store today!

At night, we would catch fire flies and put them in a jar to look at them. My mom always made me release my fire flies by bedtime, though. We caught caterpillars, petted them gently, then released them back into the woods.

We played kick ball bare footed on the asphalt until our feet were black as tar. We would throw the ball and smack each other until we had red “ball burns” on various parts of our bodies. You were supposed to not aim for the face, but the boys always bent this rule. We would play kick ball until after dark and we could no longer see the ball.

After afternoons of kick ball, I recall many nights of mom coming to throw back the covers on the bed to check my bare feet for dirt. Every single time, she would make me get up out of bed and wash my black soled feet from the asphalt stains. Why should I need to do that? It was just going to happen again tomorrow. Sure enough, the next afternoon, we are running bare foot on the asphalt and the bottoms of my feet were black, again.

What happened to kids going outside to play? I know I sound old, but whatever. But seriously?

When did we get so far away from “free time”, “free play” and “day dreaming”? Many successful people of leading corporations and businesses today attribute their success to their ability to “dream.” Have we filled up so much time that our kids do not know how to “day dream” or “play” anymore?

When was the last time your child did not have a “class”, “recital”, “lesson”, “practice”, “performance”, “training”, “try out”, “play off”, “finals”, “testing” or “some other crap that keeps them from playing?”

You have no idea how much Bactine spray and gauze were used in my house when I was 10 years old to treat all the cuts and scrapes. That Bactine crap would sting the mess out of you! I think the first ingredient was “knives with ragged edges”, followed by “hot molten lava.”  You might as well have used ground table salt or sand paper instead, it would hurt less.

Take some time to give your kids the opportunity to “dream”, “imagine” and “play.” Put away all electronics for 24 hours for the whole family, yes, you too. Be bored, for boredom is a lesson that can teach. Watch as your kids are forced to be creative, they will be creative! You may even surprise yourself.

Make forts. Ask questions about past, present and future. Look at clouds while lying on your back on the ground. Sing songs. Tell old stories. Look at baby pictures. Look at wedding photos. Show kids old family pictures. Cook something different. Go to a park. Play a board game. Tell your kids what you used to think about when you were young (they really do want to know, no matter what they say). Tell your kids about your dreams when you were young. Ask your kids about their dreams. Tell your kids what you think is special about them. Hug them until they pull away first!

Maybe the idea of no electronics will not work the first time, so do it again.

I hear parents today talking smack about their kids playing too many video games, watching too much TV or “lose themselves” in iPads. Guess what folks, this is our fault! As a parent, we are responsible for what we allow our kids to do. We are not our kids’ best friends, we are parents first.

Take one of the two the challenges. 1. One night a week with no electronics. Or 2. One weekend day a week with no electronics. Give your kids the chance to really use their imagination. It may be uncomfortable at first, but heck, most lessons in life are painful. Just stick with it all day! You may be amazed at what you see blossom from your child’s mind and imagination. Your brain is like a muscle that needs to be used in order to get stronger.

After no electronics, think about what extracurricular activities your kids really want to do and which ones may be eliminated or placed on hold for another time. Examine your motives for your kids being in these activities. Is it because the child wants to participate or are you living vicariously through your child? How about them apples, huh? Rest assured, I have had to do the same questioning to myself many times.

May I be so bold as to recommend that you really talk to your kid(s)? Sit down, without distractions, and LISTEN to what they have to say, all of it. Do not interrupt until they are finished. Think before you speak, knowing that your kid is hoping you HEARD what they had to say. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for and only they know how they really feel about things.

It may not go well the first time, so do it again and again. You will be amazed at what you find out and what you hear from your kid(s).

If all else fails, do what I did. Set up a savings account for your kid. In the account I have a letter that states she can use the money for all the therapy they need for having me as a mother.

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