Sunday, 25 March 2012

Go Outside and Play

With the recent spate of above seasonal weather you’d figure the streets would be lined with kids, out playing road hockey, biking and skateboarding. We should hear shrieks of joy echoing through back yards as they take their first jumps of the season on the trampoline.  Parents should be out, poking around the yard, inspecting for buds and mole damage. But alas, this appears not to be the case with the more plugged in of us, who are loathe to turn off the computer or tablet. The kids have it worse with unprecedented levels of indoor temptation luring them back to the dark side. Nintendo DSI ,Sony PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, - stop me when you’ve heard enough – Netflix, Rogers on Demand, Facebook, ipods, iphone, ipads and flux capacitators for all I know.
In my day, it was pretty hard to kill more than twenty minutes playing Asteroids on ColecoVision.  Why you ask? Well, for one it was the hardest goddamn game in the world, it was black and white and, oh yeah, it sucked.  We lived in the sticks which meant we only had six channels on the television. It’s pretty hard to develop a good solid television addiction when your options are limited to the Beachcombers, The Tommy Hunter Show and The Littlest Hobo. If it was a clear day, you might get CHCH TV 11 from Hamilton, showing such gems as Tiny Talent Time. The best you could hope for was a two hour run on Thursday night with The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and if you were allowed to stay up, Night Court. These days, something like up to 70% of kids have a television in their room. That is a scary number. There are claims that video gaming is sucking the imagination out of kids, leaving them bored and agitated when they are not being entertained. Yes, at times it is a struggle not to cave when you hear the cries of “there’s nothing to do”, tempting you to hand over the Sony PSP.
Hold fast parents, and heed this advice. Confiscate the electronics, send them outside and be prepared to lock the doors so they are forced to use their imagination. Close the curtains if you can’t bear to look and don’t fall for the “I have to go to the bathroom” trick. They’re like bed bugs, once they come in, it’s hard to get them out again.  It being spring, all they should need is a pair of rubber boots and some access to water. Not the fast flowing, floody type of water that will  land you on the evening news, but more like puddles, ditches, shallow ponds and the like. Get them outside and tell them they can’t come back in until they have at least one soaker. No Canadian child should be denied the glory or spared the discomfort of walking home through the back field with one sock and pant leg totally soaked and muddy, squishing and squelching inside the rubber boot. The soaker is actually only the by-product. It is the lead up to the soaker where the real value of the experience is. The exploration, the imagination and the mystique of water after everything has been frozen solid for months. We used to play a game known in my family as water-works, which basically involved using sticks and trenching out channels for the melt water to run down the driveway and away from the house. If you built a dam, you could actually get a small lake of water to form at the end of the drive, which was counter-productive, but much more fun. Didn’t require any fancy tools or rules, no age requirements and best of all, no batteries.
Ditches are also great spots for exploring and if you play in and around them long enough, you’ll eventually get a wet foot as a reward. A kid I knew used to build a ditch dam in an attempt to get the water to rise up to road level and ultimately cause a small flood. In hindsight, this may have been a little bit illegal, but the engineering requirements offered a certain educational value. There are a hundred other ways to get a good soaker. My friend Andrew lived on the lake and their game was to go out at ice break up (not too deep of course) and hop around on the chunks of ice. He went through to his waist something like seven years in a row, and for him it was a bit of a badge of honour. Another good game we played was “stick” which was easy enough to play on a shallow pond when the ice was melting. Tread softly out with a walking stick and jam it in the ice. Next guy goes out, picks up the stick and deposits it even further; the point being the closer you got to the center the thinner the ice. If no one bests your distance you win, and of course if you go through, you lose.
Another famous journey that often lead to wet feet was to go and watch the suckers spawning in the creek behind the house. In one instance, my friend Chris and I decided we would make spears and go down and hunt them. The creek was full of downed logs and rock piles, creating pools where the suckers would get trapped, making them easy targets. We spent half a day attaching vicious bits of metal to the end of hockey sticks and then made our way down to the creek. On the first try, one of us skewered a fish and we quickly realized it wasn’t particularly sporting. We spent the rest of the day catching them and tossing them over the obstacles, so they could make it farther up river to the spawning area.
My strategy is that if there is enough wood scraps in the garage, they will make ramps for jumping and if there is a full bucket of baseball gloves, various balls, sticks and pucks, some kind of game can be invented. And yes, there is always the hope that they will go exploring at the beaver damn and possibly lose a boot in the muck.  Better a lost boot adventure than 4 hours spent trying to defeat world 7 in Super Mario Bros.
So if your kids come in with mud caked on their socks, pants wet to the knee, carrying an abandoned wasps nest from last fall or a deflated ball they found in the ditch, give ‘em a high five. They just defeated world seven in the game of life.

The boy and friend enjoying the newly invented game: Trampoline Baseball


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