When I was in my twenties, I spent a stint of time as a dog walker. I loved the job, since it gave me a reasonable excuse to be outside in every type of weather and I really like the company of dogs. One day, it was storming like crazy in San Francisco, where I worked. I was concerned about the wind whipping branches out of trees and killing me or the dogs, so we went to the beach for our outing. We were at Chrissy Field, just inside the bay from the Golden Gate bridge. Almost as soon as we hit the beach, I heard this incredible rumbling out on the bay. The storm was so thick that you couldn’t see more than 30 feet out into the water – it was just a whitewash of gusting rain. At first I thought the rumbling was a distressed tanker in the bay and suddenly I realized it was a gale force wind — literally a wall of wind flying from the ocean, under the Golden Gate Bridge and slamming across the surface of the water towards us. The dogs were all standing a bit in front of me and I knew I had to protect them. I squatted down and screamed out to them over the storm while unzipping my raincoat, my back to the bridge where the wind was coming from. I opened my jacket just in time to create a pocket of still space in front of me. The dogs, lowering their heads facing the wind, inched into the pocket just as the gale rushed over us. One of the smaller dogs got picked up in the wind and tossed a few times along the sand. We, meaning the other dogs and I, moved like a phalanx in the wind, keeping the cover of the jacket spread wide like wings, until we could catch up with Charlie. We stayed like that for a good fifteen minutes until the gusts stopped and everything got quiet again. The sun broke out over a still, grey air and we looked at each other, stunned and thrilled at the same time that we’d managed through that experience together.
I recount that story because it makes me think of the way in which I want to spread my wings over my children, creating a sheltering pocket for them from all the speed and racing, media and technology that waits with bated breath just outside the door. I don’t think all technology and media are evil, but that there’s a time and place for them. In the same way that it takes an adult to appreciate a wine, so too does it take a fully mature mind to be able to handle the speed of common life today. I’d rather under-expose my children to technology and media than over-expose them. They way I see it, I have always figured that if they want to be media savvy and live a fast-paced life, they can always catch up as young adults. It’s not like you can’t pick up technology and adaptively use it in your life — that’s the very nature of technology — it’s meant to make your life faster and easier.
I recently read a fantastic guest post by Esa Helttula at the “Moms with Apps” blog. It’s entitled “Let the Children Play.” It’s ironic that a techno-focused blog would post something this profound in justification of unplugging your life and your children.
Esa illuminates some of the outcomes that result from a deficiency in play, especially unstructured, outdoor play, in our children. Apparently it’s a global phenomenon. I instinctively strive to give my children what I call a “Slow Childhood.” This means minimizing obligations to a hyper-scheduled life and providing lots of unstructured play time, focusing on toys that require imagination and interaction to make them function (ie, generally not things that light up and go “whiz-bang!”). One of Esa’s points that struck home with me was the need for children to create games that are based on their rules. This isn’t about being in power, but in play-acting the structures that they encounter every day which are rarely explicitly declared, but upon which we base most of our society. It must be very confusing for children to comprehend the norms of introduction between adults, or the art of navigating the rules of traffic! By being able to play-act and create games that fluidly shift rules and dynamics, children can experiment with the social structures they encounter and come to master them through play.
Another aspect that jumped out was that which relates to elaboration:
The most striking decline was in Elaboration (ability to develop and elaborate upon ideas and detailed and reflective thinking and motivation to be creative). Scores in Elaboration decreased by over 36 % from 1984 to 2008.
I started wondering who else is thinking about the idea of a Slow Childhood and came across this beautiful post on “A Wild and Precious Life.” This homeschooling mom commends Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I think I’ll add it to the list and start looking for more ways to build on this idea of spreading my wings to create the space, protecting my children from the gale force winds of technology and the pace of modern life so I may give them the gift of a Slow Childhood.