Finding New Ways to Be a Kid

“It’s almost as if we have to re-invent childhood.”

I ran across those words today. They were spoken by the director of a major children’s museum. They’re intriguing words. And disturbing.

What does she mean? How on earth could the “invention” of childhood be forgotten?
To answer, first let me describe how I see childhood in our age. Kids are constantly on the go. They’re scheduled from morning to night. The little time they have to play is frequently gobbled up by video games, television, or DVDs. They’re not free to roam, to explore, to discover on their own. Kids are viewing and dealing with grown-up issues at younger and younger ages.

In short, for many kids childhood is a bland, joyless march through the day-to-day. It needs rejuvenation.

How do we re-invent childhood? By finding new forms for old essentials:

Play. It’s more than just exercising one’s thumbs on a controller. We need to find a way to lure kids back to the most satisfying form of play: improvisational, make-it-up-as-you-go fun. But since many kids don’t know what that is, they’ll need parents to get them started. (Don’t panic. This site is here to help.)

Freedom. In our new world of worry, many parents simply can’t let their kids roam after school. We need to find safe places for children to explore; whether it’s a friend’s farm, a basement workshop, or even a museum – overseen by an adult, but guided by a child’s whim.

Unstructured Time. Parents control the calendar. We can choose to leave time for our kids (and us!) to chill. But it will mean making hard decisions about what organized activities they’ll do. Guard that free time jealously, and be ready with some ideas for fun if your kids don’t know how to use their newfound leisure.

Jean Craighead George, children’s author, called her childhood a “leaping, laughing adventure”. That’s something worth giving to our own children, even if it takes a little re-inventing.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter