Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Summer and Teaching Kids How to Play Outdoors

Today is the first day of summer. At least for my kids it is.

Why do mom and dad seem more relieved and full of joy than the kids do about school ending?

When I was a kid, summer seemed truly endless. We left the house early and came home late. There was no TV watching (except for Saturday mornings—you simply could NOT miss Run, Joe, Run). Back then, we didn't go out and buy summer clothes; we simply pulled out mom's sewing scissors and turned our Tuffskins with the double knee-patch into cutoffs. Presto: shorts for the whole summer. With our cutoffs hand-frayed to look acceptably groovy, we were off!

There were non-stop baseball games in the street, and strike-out matches against the front door with a Wiffle ball and bat. We practically lived off the plum, cherry and apple trees in our backyard and scattered around the neighborhood. We played marbles. We played guns. We built forts. We caught frogs (and tadpoles in coffee cans) at the creek. We'd scrounge up some change and walk up to Hacienda Gardens to buy 5-cent gum and Spider-Man comic books, or drop into the utterly sweet-smelling and air-conditioned Sugar Chalet to buy a jaw breaker or a foot of licorice rope. There were constant sleepovers, water balloon fights, and crowded games of pickle on dad's precious front lawn ("Getoffadagrass, ya ninnies!").

We rode bikes around tracks we sketched onto the street with the white display rocks from the lady's house across the street. We climbed trees. We waited for something interesting to happen; it never did. We waited for a girl to move into our neighborhood; she never arrived. The Fourth of July seemed to take forever to arrive, but it sure hit big when it came to our blocked-off street. I can still taste the watermelon, and recall the seed-spitting contests. I can still hear the hiss of those little lady finger firecrackers, and the bottle rockets screaming overhead. And I can still recall the thrill of the desperate scavenger hunt down the street the next morning to find the "duds" we could still get a bang out of. Now that was Summer.

I thought of these times when I saw this article by Dana Hall in the San Jose Mercury News about a summer drop-off program that parents can sign their kids up for so they can experience the joys of playing outside. It's a "movement" now, half-jokingly called "Leave No Child Inside." How times have changed.