In today's world...like sports, dance and other extra curricular activities.....play dates (times a child has to play with his friends) must all be scheduled. Kids after school times and weekends are so full of stuff....that kids rarely get to be just kids and family time is spent eating a quick take out burger on the way to the next event. Neighborhoods are no longer havens for kids to play kick-the-can, kickball or tag until dark because the kids are too busy getting their young lives scheduled down to the second....and in my opinion....missing out on some pretty great moments of childhood.
I remember as a kid during the school year, you walked home from school with your friends, dropped your books off and headed out to play in the neighborhood until supper. Then you ate, did your homework and went to bed. In the summer....you got out of bed, ate breakfast and then played in the neighborhood until your mom called you for lunch. No....not on a cellphone and not even on a land line telephone. My mom would stand out on the back porch and yell, "Liiiiiiisssssssaaaaaaa, time for lunch!" and that was my que to get home for lunch. All mom's did this. After lunch it was back out until I got the call for supper and then back out again until the street lights came on. Everyone had to be home by the time the street lights came on and by then we were usually so tired that we fell into bed. It was a good tired though. The tired of a child who has been a child all day long!
Much of what I learned about life I learned all those summers playing in the neighborhood. I learned how to not be so shy, after all there was a lot of knocking on doors and asking if "so and so could come out and play." That was not for the faint of heart....especially if someones dad or older sibling were to answer the door. I learned how to share...sometimes an especially doting mom might toss us some popcicles and if there weren't enough to go round....you shared. I learned that some of the best games were not created by Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers. They came from necessity and great young imaginations. I learned how to take a soccer ball to the face and not shed a tear and I learned that walking barefoot in clover is never a smart idea. I learned that home is not just square footage with a roof. It can also be several blocks long and that family is not just those you live with...but can extend over into those you spend most of your summer days and adventures with. No...we had never heard of play dates. We simply played. We might get a game of kick ball going and play in whoevers yard was the largest or we would take refuge on a really hot day in someones sprinkler. We usually never went in anyone's house. If you had to go to the bathroom you ran home and if you were thirsty....you drank out of the nearest garden hose. We were dirty, sweaty little outside creatures....and even rain was no match for our childhood fun. When hit by the occasional rainy day....we would simply find someones garage to play in or porch to play on. We would play board games, cards or a lot of times....make up games. We had amazing imaginations because we didn't watch a lot of tv, most of us liked to read and we had never heard of a video game. It was truly childhood in its rarest, purest form.
Life seemed to be so simple back in the late 60's and early 70's. Dad's worked outside the home, mom's usually worked in the home and kids were kids. Granted, back then....neighborhoods were much safer...but even then, mom's would periodically look out to check and see whose kids were in their yard. Mom's knew who should and shouldn't be there and if older kids or strange kids from elsewhere showed up....mom's were pretty good about sending them on their way. There were seldom fights or problems but if a kid got mad or a fight happened to break out amongst the regulars.....we were most often left to settle things for ourselves. Seldom did things ever get to the point that someone had to be sent home for the afternoon or that another parent needed called. We were all pretty peaceful and self-sufficient in our little neighborhood world. We needed nothing more than imagination and a ball to keep ourselves entertained and happy.
Comparing now to then.....my parents would never have thought to have enrolled me or my brother in activities like today's parents do. For one they didn't have the money to shell out and for another, my parents respectively worked very hard and the last thing they wanted to do 3-5 nights a week and on weekends was trek us all over the country to different activities and events. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts were their limit and even they stretched it at times. As for weekends....Saturday's were work around the house and bbq days in the summertime and Sundays were church and family. There was no time for all the extra curricular stuff....and we neither missed it nor would we have known what to do with it if every hour of our free time had been scheduled. In fact....that was the beauty of summer. You were no longer tied to a schedule and you were free to be a child.
So a child needs play dates?! Quite possibly in today's world they do. Maybe we have over scheduled them to the point that if they weren't scheduled it would be too much free time for them. The lack of schedule might bring on a whole new set of problems. Also....neighborhoods are not what they used to be. There aren't a lot of non-working moms who are home to keep a silent eye on things and the dangers for kids roaming unsupervised are exponentially greater now than they were 40 years ago. Danger aside though.....in today's world of video games, computers and 500 channels on tv, most kids would be bored silly if their "free time" was nothing more than a soccer ball, a sprinkler and their own imagination. Truthfully....I believe kids of today would have no idea how to process or even enjoy a Wichita summer day in 1971. They would be both underwhelmed and under stimulated....not to mention extremely under scheduled. Still....I think these kids are really missing a lot and if I must place blame (and I guess I must)....I will put it on the parent who first decided that instead of just playing and acting like a kid.....kids needed schedules and play dates! Apparently I am not a fan.