Usually I’m not preachy, but watching this video of three generations talking about summer ‘fun’ filmed by Nature Valley jarred me to my roots. Our relationship to nature is changing and with technology at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget about what’s important, like being outside and enjoying nature. With each passing generation, children seem to be playing outside less and less.
What if our connection to nature is lost for good? I want my grandchildren to develop skills and knowledge that can be acquired only in nature. Learning to fish, to camp, swim, built forts and plant seeds are part of childhood – play is necessary for development. Not only are motor skills developed, but creativity, reasoning, logic and life skills are honed. Can you imagine having no access to food other than fish, but the only time you’ve held a rod was during a fishing video game? So let’s make a pact to get the kids outside this summer, K?
The time is now to rediscover the joy of nature.
The kids and I have completed our ‘Summer Bucket List’ and pasted it to the fridge, where we can check off the items as we complete them. I’m giddy. Too often the summer slips away from us and I regret not having slept in a tent or taking the kayak out. This will be the best summer ever.
I challenge you to complete your own Bucket List (click to get your own printable)! I’d also love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Happy summer!
Does your little one try to pacify themselves with your smart phone? Avoid the risk of “slobber damage” and get them their very own device! A fab French toy line, Janod has your babe’s wireless needs covered. The Janod kids mobile phone is available at Raspberry Kids.
I walked into my Right To Play circle and felt insecure. And then a little boy looked at me. His name was George. George Washington. Seriously. This is Liberia. And we held hands and he showed me what to do. I couldn’t really understand the thick accent of the group leader and I kept doing everything wrong. I started to relax and got into it after one of the kids squeezed my hand. I had just come into one of the poorest slums in the world on a slow road with people everywhere. West Point, Monrovia. I had No Idea. It smelled of fish and feces. Fruit was carried in buckets on heads and babies on backs. And I hadn’t really regrouped yet. After 36 hours of travel, I landed in the dark in an unknown country. My family was worried for my safety (Google Liberia and you see only images of the recent war). I didn’t really know what to expect. But I trusted Right To Play. And so I should have.
We played short games that I could only relate to my many years of theatre (which everyone joked was a form of therapy). The games taught trust, learning and self-revelation. In one we were a team acting as a dragon. With arms around the waist of the person in front, the head of the dragon had to catch the tail. Many of us ended in the sand but before falling, we moved as a group, anticipating the collective movement. In another – I think we call it ‘telephone’ in North America – a phrase was passed around the circle and the final person announced what it ended up being. We talked about discrimination and judgement.
After the final game we did an au revoir, kind of like ballet class when you thank the teacher and your peers. Clap clap head bend, clap clap head bend, clap clap, blow kisses! (In a fab rhythm of course). Giggles and laughter all around.
Walking out of the games area we went into the harsh reality of these kids’ lives. The uniforms always make people look so wealthy. (But I did notice a tear in the back of George’s shirt that needed mending.) I saw a pile of other kids not enrolled in school who were not participating in the Right To Play programs that day. (There are special play days for all the children in the community including those who do not go to school). They wouldn’t make eye contact and were yearning to be a part of the action. The games. The learning. Very different from the kids who just told me the definition of discrimination with confidence and big voices. My heart broke.
We past corrugated tin houses down the 3 foot-wide dirt pathways. To visit the school. The whole thing was the size of one Vancouver classroom, but with 6 classrooms, grades K-6 plus the principal’s office (all labeled with cardboard). The kids were packed like chickens (but still grinning) and Right To Play is currently raising money for a new school. These are the lucky kids. Many of their teachers are Right To Play leaders as well, using the curriculum for the phys-ed portion of the day. Boys, and girls were all hankering to get into my photos. And to, of course, see the result shown on my fancy SLR screen.
We then wandered through more alleyways to the beach. En route I was offered some local fare. Manioc. Crisped beans. Porridge. Fish from the boats off the beach. You see, there is no power here. No water. Fish is the staple (thank goodness for boat launches from the beach) and it is caught and dried. Huge barrels burn with wood to cook and preserve the treats from the ocean. This was the first smell.
Descending on the beach, after running into a woman cleaning up garbage (since Right To Play began, some community members have formed a volunteer group to make the area more habitable), I looked at the extraordinary view, white sand and clear water. I only found one shell. It was like the beaches of the Bahamas. And then I realized what the second smell was about. I saw a few dark spots and got warned about where I stepped. My head was spinning. And then there was a young boy. Probably 6, he pulled his trousers down as he squatted. And then there were three boys doing the same. Their families couldn’t afford the 5 Liberian dollars for the use of the new latrines (ones on stilts that dump into the ocean). Many women are pregnant here and families on average (I would guess) for the area – 4 kids, 2 adults. That’s about $1US per day to use a toilet with privacy. And the average income? $1.25. Beach it is I guess. I walked through the latrine runoff in order to get back to our vehicle as I watched many kids play in the water. These people need a well.
The women carried babies on their backs – a feat I was astounded about. One used a towel. We go back Thursday and I am getting up the confidence for a lesson. The men hung in groups, a few manned stores and many scowled at my camera. (Understandably many feel that I am about to exploit their plight to make money in the West by taking a photo with my expensive SLR).
And that was only the morning. We drove out – 6 of us, silent. The cockroaches and malfunctioning AC in the hotel room seem pretty good right now. I want to play with the kids again.
What is a luxury? Louis Vuitton, of course. And silk pajamas. A suite at the Four Seasons. Truffles are at the top of my list. This is fun. I like this game. But what about less obvious facets of life like health and education? Are sport and play a luxury? Life skills? Are the notions of co-operation, teamwork and fairness luxuries too?
When we think of what ‘should be’ important in less fortunate countries, Canadians think of the ‘biggies’. We wince at photos of malnourished mothers trying to nurse, children with guns and sexual violence. We project our values onto other societies. When asked what should be the most important focus for these nations in a 2012 Ipsos Reid survey*, Canadians came up with these top four:
(I’ll hold out comment on gender equality coming in at 7%.)
But what if there were a magical bean that could work towards resolving all of these big issues?
When our Canadian infants are young we are instructed to engage in ‘floor time’, playing blocks and puzzles with our little ones. We trundle to the soccer fields in the rain and learn hopscotch. How did you first learn about sharing? A play-date where little Tommy wanted your Star Wars lego, right? And what about gender equality? I bet it was when Molly smucked you at checkers. Canadian parents know innately the importance of play to our society and the development of our kids. We are fortunate to not have to worry about war, water, disease and education. But only 5 per cent of parents see access to play as the most important factor for children in developing countries.
Play should be a luxury for no one.
In Canada we feel that sports help keep kids healthy and (more importantly!) out of trouble. Children learn teamwork, gender equality and meet people from other places and backgrounds. (Remember that hunky guy from the other city’s basketball team?) Our kids set goals (which often mean that we get up at 4am to get to the hockey rink or pool), they learn how to concentrate, co-operate and properly channel aggression.
According to the survey results:
“When it comes to skills learned from sports that respondents used to help them with their education, responses included that skills acquired from sports taught them determination, leadership abilities, how to be a part of a team, how to balance play and school, drive, and discipline.” (excerpt from Right To Play Global Youth Summit survey results)
This is what Leveling The Field with Right To Play is about. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, play nourishes every aspect of children’s development – it forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life. Play paves the way for learning.
Shouldn’t kids in West Africa have the same opportunities that Canadian kids do? If we can touch the areas of education, conflict, health and (lastly) gender equality through sport and play just think of the possibilities.
*This survey is based on a sample of 1015 respondents commissioned by Right To Play and conducted by Ipsos Reid during September 17 – 24, 2012. The results of the survey have a credibility interval of +/- 3.5 percentage points of all Canadians.
Recently one of my oldest friends, whom I’ve known since kindergarten, got in touch. “We’re coming to town! Can we see you?” I was thrilled – between us we have four boys under five and have wanted to get them together for ages. With our visit being last minute and later in the day than the kids are accustomed to, though, it was mayhem for all of us. Without specific activities set out for them, our little ones bounced off the walls accordingly. My friend and I couldn’t finish a sentence, let alone a conversation. For two families who rely heavily on structure for sanity and functionality, being without a plan took away from the experience. Worth it? Yes! But by the time we were done she and I were exhausted. Here’s our recipe for a play date that keeps kids and moms happy!
In a nutshell, there is a better way. Kids need to know there is a program in place. If you do things in the right order they will be too occupied by what you’ve got them doing to get bored and into trouble. Make a schedule for the play date and plan activities that accommodate their needs.
My suggestion is to start with some kind of exercise. I’m talking about real physical exertion here. The more fun, the better, so if you’re at home, set up a potato sack race or an obstacle course in the yard (no horseshoes, though – you don’t want some poor little person getting winged in the head with one of them). If you’re planning to be out and about there are places popping up everywhere offering both indoor and outdoor “adventure zones” for kids of all ages. If you don’t want to spend money on admission fees, use what you have at home or go to the park. Whether it’s to be a day inside or out, make sure the kids get an opportunity to burn off some steam! They will feel great and it will calm them for the rest of your time together. You should plan to participate in this part of the play date. It’s an opportunity to determine a feeling of safety and set forth ground rules for the remainder of your time together; your young guests should feel comfortable treating you as their go-to grown-up and it’s your responsibility to establish this.
After a workout, everyone will need to rest and refuel. When I host a play date, I always make sure I know if those joining us have any allergies, food aversions or requests. This is not to be confused with being a short order cook – the point here is to make everything easier, not to wait on everyone the whole time. The nice thing about apprising yourself of what people like or dislike is that no one is going to criticize you for ordering takeout or serving store-prepared foods if they know you’ve taken the time to consider them when doing so. Once I have my information, I plan an easy snack or meal and get as much of it done in advance as possible. Fun food for kids is imperative! Involve them in the preparation – make mini pizzas they load themselves or have them spread their own peanut butter and jelly. Put out finely cut fruit or veggies and let them make funny faces on their pancakes or toast. If you want to keep them calm, don’t overdo it with the sugar. Go with bananas rather than chocolate. Make smoothies (you can call them milkshakes!) instead of serving pop. No hard and fast rules, and by all means splurge on burgers and milkshakes from time to time. It’s all about balance.
Now, I am a huge advocate of turning off the damned TV when sitting down to dinner. Playdates can be an exception to this – and no, it doesn’t make you a lousy parent. Getting the kids exercised and fed is hard work and you will need some down time! Turn on Peep and the Big Wide World or put in a Disney movie – something appropriate for all ages present. You can do this during the feeding frenzy, as it may serve to distract them and cut down on the mess, or you can wait until they’re done. Hopefully you’ve remembered to brew the coffee or make yourself a snack too, because now is the time to enjoy the relative lull in activity.
The next important element is to have a few alternatives available for those kids who just can’t sit still. A train set, an accessible book selection, some coloured pencils and paper and a collapsible tunnel would be a great combination of options. The more straightforward the activity, and the less pieces involved, the more it will appeal to kids of different ages. Puzzles, climbing equipment and musical instruments are great things to have around, but as long as there are several opportunities for creative play most children will happily occupy themselves.
Don’t forget the magic! Add some whimsy by having the kids cut and arrange flowers as they set the table, or sprinkle some “fairy dust” (sure, glitter is hard to clean up, but life is short) while they play. You can always turn off the TV and throw on some Raffi instead. Have a dance party. Jump on the bed. Go puddle jumping if it’s rainy; a canoe or trail ride if it’s a beautiful day. These are the moments you will all remember later on.
Finally, the best trick of all: if you can swing it, hire a nanny for the afternoon and let her execute your master plan! If your young guests’ mom is a friend of yours, get out the martini shaker or the chocolate or whatever floats your boat. Then, get the hell out of dodge and take a break! Go put your feet up and have a good conversation. Feed your sanity a little.
Coming soon: further explorations on dealing with other people’s nannies, your obligation to other parents hosting your kids’ play dates, correcting or disciplining other people’s children, and whether you should assume your older child’s sibling is invited to that birthday party!
– Samantha Jeffers Agar loves to get her kids laughing and has even been known to sew the odd potato sack.
Remember those days as a child, coming in from the rain and snow and sitting down to a huge mug of hot cocoa? If you’re going to indulge, you might as well do it from scratch. It’s easy, healthier, and you can’t beat the taste. Fill a pot on the stove with the desired amount of milk. Next, mix equal parts sugar and cocoa with a bit of the hot liquid. This prevents clumping. (You can also use Callebaut chocolate, chocolate chips, honey or brown sugar). Add the chocolate mixture to the hot milk and pour into cocoa cups. We like the china kind, but for kids, try mini tin camping mugs. Warm memories and special traditions. Try it with our shortbread if you dare!