In many of my articles, I refer to certain species at risk — the plants and animals trending toward extinction unless conservation action is taken.
I also like to discuss the various risks we take with the natural world and its processes, and the implications that may follow.
For today’s risk assessment, I ask any reader to reflect on their age, and then ask yourself — how has risky childhood play changed since, well, your childhood?
Trends in western civilization show kids spending more time indoors, inactive, and engaged in screen time in the past couple decades. This is not meant to paint these pastimes with a brush of negativity, as all of these are indeed enjoyable and soothing.
But what happens when youth are exposed to this lifestyle at such a young age? It’s captivating stuff. The screens, the technology, and their ability to entertain and educate alike. A deeper question might be, are the youth comfortable, or are they addicted?
Do the hours logged in such activities replace the hours of more rigorous, risky, and challenging styles of play that youth used to engage in?
On the flip side of the coin, maybe the descriptors I just used could be painted with the brush of dangerous styles of play. But they don’t have to be. In fact, in moderation, they can be completely healthy and beneficial for our development.
I remember a childhood of building ramps with bricks under them, and trying to launch my bike and I over a hedge in the front yard, sometimes disastrously. But when I landed, it felt unbelievable.
My buddies and I built forts across the street in the swamp, and we took on everything from bees’ nests, ice-cold soakers, and getting flat-out lost together. I used to drive an ATV with hockey sticks, goalie equipment, and my brother on the back up the escarpment to play road hockey for an afternoon, the sound of frogs all around us and robins bounding from tree to tree. We biked to each other’s houses, then went fishing somewhere without a plan.
And in hindsight, all with amazing laughs and rich memories. Those are just my personal experiences, but I wasn’t the only one enjoying those experiences.
I don’t see kids exploring outside and playing in creeks and snowbanks as much as I used to, and unless my observations are misleading, I think that’s a little sad.
When kids are exploring outside, their senses are being stimulated from all directions without them being aware. There are so many colours, sounds, and textures available for our brain and body. New and unforeseen challenges come out of the woods, creeks, and sky. And it unfolds at random, beyond our control. When kids are found in an environment where their senses are being woken with a sense of wonder, there are countless mental and physical benefits to be derived. They have entered the curiosity slipstream.
Youngsters walking over roots and rocks, balancing on logs over the water, or climbing up the hillsides are using every muscle group at least once, you can bet. As young human bodies develop, familiarization between the growing skeleton and its muscle groups are key. It sets the tone and baseline strength for good adult posture one day, and gives them a sense of awareness when it comes to their physical surroundings.
Time spent outdoors also installs resilience in kids. They begin to accept that not just things in nature, but things in life are going to be beyond their control sometimes. Be patient with the weather, the bugs, the boss, or the obstacles across the path. The intertwining of nature-taught scenarios and daily life lessons is indisputable. I get a kick out of watching kids who celebrate rain and thunderstorms, and don’t mind wiping out in the mud (sometimes I swear they do it on purpose).
I revisited some childhood moments this past weekend. I was out with friends in some deep woods in Niagara, walking across barely frozen ponds and wondering if we’d break through, challenging one another from the other side. I also purchased a sled, so we could tow it around in the fresh powdery snow for a good laugh.
Some adrenaline, laughter, muscle usage, and good times with good friends.
I spend a lot of time around youth for my work. I might be wrong, but I can feel the difference of childhood play and attitudes before me — and we’re not even a full generation apart technically. Something seems to have happened about 10 years ago. Maybe social media got too interesting, TV got too good, and the cozy indoors got even cozier.
I guess I’m still a big kid myself.
With sufficient studies showing the link between outdoor physical activity and overall wellbeing, it would be nice to see more kids outside and reaping the benefits. Thankfully, let’s not forget NOTL is one of the safest places going in terms of both nature and human factors to get outdoors.