Easier to “Get Kids Outside” in Spring? Think Again

My daughter seemed  interested in coming outside with me this morning to check out the neighborhood owl. It has a regular shift at the entry to its nest, but that happens to coincide with the chaos of getting to school (not) on time. “But mommy,” she said, “I need a new bike helmet.” While this might in fact seem like a Stuff (capital S)-obsessed response to an invitation to an encounter with an animal thriving in its habitat, she has, in fact, outgrown her bicycle helmet, and biking would be a reasonable and pleasant way to take this outing.

Photo Copyright by Harry Powers
Photo Copyright by Harry Powers

The fact is, we could walk, but she vehemently opposed walking the half-mile or so to the Place of Owl. Despite this reluctance, she’s enthusiastic about the larger idea I proposed—that we visit the spot every week from now on, early on a Saturday morning. She even proposed writing an “owl schedule” on which we could record when we saw owl babies appear and other such milestones. What was striking, and what I want to comment on here, is the hard parameters that seemed to take root almost instantly around the concept of owl viewing.

Owl Observations= Bike with Mom


Owl Observations = Bike with Mom + New Bike Helmet

and since we didn’t have the bike helmet, and she wasn’t interested in changing the transport side of the equation, it became

Owl Observations=Null

Not only was I wishing, seemingly on her behalf, that the shock and awe of seeing a real live own would trump her antipathy to walking, but I was so trapped in my own script—as she was in hers—that we couldn’t resolve the problem. After all,  it was my problem; she had no stake in resolving it.

The concept of “scripts” in childhood, in play and in interactions, as far as I know, isn’t new. But media, i.e., the scripts of others, are more often than not designed to displace or distort an individual child’s own script, to provide solutions and plot lines, to hijack the child.

So often today it is as if children are being remote-controlled by the scripts of others [television, videos, electronic toys], instead of coming up with their own unique stories and problems to solve. [Remote-control childhood] is exactly the opposite of [a child’s] play, where he worked out a unique problem in a unique way, and learned how to have wonderful ideas that furthered both his development and the sense of satisfaction that can come from working things out on his own. Remote-control childhood] undermines children’s ability to come up with wonderful ideas of their own creation and, instead, promotes the rote learning that is a carbon copy of the script creators.

via Moving Beyond Remote-Controlled Teaching and Learning » Diane E. Levin.

I agree wholeheartedly with Diane Levin’s critique of the “script” but I think her critique deserves extension. She is barking up the Montessori tree, which by now, a hundred some years later, has created so many saplings and grafts and branches that there really is no excuse for disempowering children, even in such small matters as a bike ride in the neighborhood.

We hijack children, even our own, from piloting their own course of play. We’re constantly introducing new problems from the adult world into theirs. Sometimes this may be necessary; sometimes, convenient for us.  When we do this, are we modeling good brainstorming, adaptive thinking, critical thinking, and taking on diverse and uncomfortable points of view? When we conceive of a family project, create a plan, or fix a destination, are we enhancing—or instead circumventing— our kids’ ability to solve problems?

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