This I Believe
As both a grandmother and as an educator, I have come to believe that today’s youngsters are over-programmed and consequently are missing out on the true joy of childhood: inventive play. Early childhood development experts tell us that play is the primary work of children. How are kids to develop creativity and imagination if every toy known to man is set before them, if every minute of their day is scheduled? Children need the opportunity to design their own interior worlds, and they need down time, just as adults do.
My childhood summers were spent at my grandmother’s cottage on the banks of the Ottawa River. There, my grandmother gave me the greatest gift an adult can offer a youngster: a childhood to remember. Mostly she did this by leaving me alone.
I spent hours roaming the banks of the river, perfecting the art of stone skipping, (a dubious skill in today’s technological world, though worth much to me as a youngster.) Today, no adult in his or her right mind would leave a child alone for five minutes, though we can still strive to create quiet space for kids to imagine, to think, to dream.
At the cottage I had no toys, except those I made myself. I created paper dolls by cutting out figures from old Sears’ catalogues and gluing cardboard to their backs. We had no television; evenings my grandmother taught me to crochet, and together we did crossword puzzles and read.
And I was happy. Gloriously, rapturously happy. I found friends in books, in the squirrels that raided Grandma’s fruit trees, and in the minnows who nibbled my toes at water’s edge. Alone, I learned to sit and watch and be.
We can’t all provide such an idyllic landscape for children, though surely we can give them a cardboard box and some poster paints to create their own fort. We can take youngsters on walks; we can let them plant a garden, if only some seeds in a pot on the back porch.
I believe it is our responsibility to let children be all they can be, to let them entertain themselves devoid of electricity. It is our obligation to avoid interfering too much and to let kids discover their own joy and wonder and innate capacities.
Childhood ends all too soon; my fear is we are making little adults out of youngsters emotionally and spiritually ill equipped for such a role. A rich fantasy life sustains us in times of trouble; when children are allowed freedom to grow and explore on their own terms, they find their own passions, not those we press upon them.
My grandmother had no knowledge of psychology, though she knew intuitively how a child prospered. I hope in my role as grandmother that I can do as well as she, fostering creativity and endless possibility in the babes I hold so dear.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.