From Free-Range to Safety Corral

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Posted in category Free-Range Life

Toys are no longer fun things for playing. They “develop gross motor skills,” “develop spatial awareness,” and improve “concentration and memory while reinforcing dexterity and hand-eye coordination.”

Lenore Skenazy, the original Free-Range Mom, has written a great column published in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Parents Are Taking the Fun Out of Toys.” Lenore is noted for her criticism of modern society’s constant structuring of children’s lives, rather than allowing them to just play, explore, learn, and develop naturally.

The poor children nowadays – every activity is planned and every toy has to have a ‘science’ (gimmick) behind it. No action can be performed without a helmet, a safety lecture, an adult present, reflective clothing, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, gobs of 50 SPF sunblock, or perhaps some full-body armor. This is from Lenore’s column:

In truth, kids learn really valuable lessons by riding a real tricycle on the real sidewalk. They learn about nature. They learn about the seasons. They talk to neighbors and learn how to make friends. They even learn some skills that will help them in the classroom, like how to pay attention. But since none of this is measured by schools and tests, it tends to get discounted by parents, who prefer toys that hint that they’re pointing straight toward Princeton.

For more on this, see “The World’s Five Best Toys (that aren’t on the government’s safe list).” Trees, sticks, rocks, dirt, magnets, marbles, cardboard tubes – these are no longer allowed to bring joy to children. Instead, they are either not scientific enough, or they generate some potential danger. All potential dangers, as we know, must be immediately denounced and banned. If you google “children toys dangerous,” it is scary – yet preposterous – to see what comes up.

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6 Responses to From Free-Range to Safety Corral

  1. Tom Osborne says:

    February 22nd, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I am reminded of my Swedish godson…I went to a birthday party of his when he was a very little boy and dozens of relatives, neighbors, and friends came and brought him lots of wonderful presents.  I don’t remember what I gave him, but I do remember what was clearly his favorite.  His uncle had killed a rat in the barn and skinned it and did whatever one does to a hide, and then gave the boy THAT as a birthday present (I think Americans would be horrified).  The boy loved everything about it, the feel of the fur on one side, the feel of the rough suede on the other side, the natural smell of it (there seems to be something hard-wired in this), and the fact that he could fashion it into an animal that he could put through all sorts of imaginary games and stories.

    Thinking back to my old childhood, we all loved big cardboard boxes, such as when somebody bought a new washing machine or other large appliance.  Immediately, that became a neighborhood fort (for the boys) or a house (for the girls), and these were so popular that part of the lessons from my father when I was learning how to drive was to beware large cardboard boxes out in the street, “There may be a child inside of it.”  That, I am sure, is no more.

    A shopping center was being built and all the foundational ditches that covered the many acres and tall mounds of dirt became trenches and high ground for our various war games.  We loved streams and lakes.   We loved going outside barefooted in the rain and splashing in mud puddles.  We loved making cities and roadways in the sandpile, wetting everything with a hose.  We loved roller skating and riding our bicycles.  I, for one, also loved books, and records, those to me were as much “toys” as anything else.  Oh, we also loved board games that the whole family could play–Parcheesie and Monopoly and Scrabble and so many others.  Nowadays, I think it is a marvel if a kid is playing somewhere other than on a computer.  And, of course, back to your thesis, “authorities” generate fear as to what a kid can get up to on a computer (“oh, the predators, the porn, and so on!”).  I always say, “The solution to these problems is to educate and empower the kids to take care of themselves,” and it also certainly helps to have tight families where everybody has fun with each other and feels free to TALK about their lives.   Nowadays, despite all our “connectivity,” I am afraid that everybody feels very much alone.  

  2. Karen De Coster says:

    February 22nd, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Cardboard boxes were the cat’s ass! Thankfully, my 9-year-old nephew would give up any time at a computer for a someone to play a board game with him. Tom, do you remember erector sets, Tip-it, play dough, slinkies, and Matchbox cars? I remember when it would pour rain and lightening, my Mom would let us run like hell down the street, barefoot, in the pouring rain, “evading” the lightening.

  3. liberranter says:

    February 22nd, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    [D]o you remember erector sets, Tip-it, play dough, slinkies, and Matchbox cars?

    Ahhh, Matchbox cars! My 80-something parents still keep at home, in my old bedroom closet, a whole suitcase full of original made-in-the-UK, fully aluminum (and probably lead paint-coated) cars that my brother and I first received in a set as a Christmas present back in the mid ’60s when I was in first grade and my brother was in preschool. Not only did my and my brother’s kids enjoy these durable, timeless toys, but so now do our grandkids, who are now the same age (or approaching the same age) as their grandfathers were when they got the cars new. I cannot imagine anything made today (most certainly not the current generation of Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars) lasting anywhere near as long nor being as much fun. I only hope that they last long enough for at least one more generation of the family to enjoy them too!

    The poor children nowadays – every activity is planned and every toy has to have a ‘science’ (gimmick) behind it. No action can be performed without a helmet, a safety lecture, an adult present, reflective clothing, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, gobs of 50 SPF sunblock, or perhaps some full-body armor.

    On that subject, I cannot imagine a more hideous and destructive form of abuse facing any child in Amerika today than to be “raised” (for lack of a better term) by the shallow, nosy, suffocatingly overprotective, state-worshiping, critical thought-challenged yuppie dolts that are the Establishment’s ideal parents. If there is a silver lining to the ugly future with which this nation is on a direct collision course, it is that few of these creatures have the adaptability, maturity, or resilience to survive on their own. We can only hope that their offspring will rise to the occasion and thrive in their absence.

  4. Iluvatar says:

    February 22nd, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    My kids have BOTH Match Box cars AND the SEVERELY UGLY action figures from Todd MacFarlane (creator of SPAWN!!@!@). And I mean REALLY UGLY action figures (which are so cool, they kick MAJOR frickin’ $ss!!!).

    We also got a Marble Works (somewhat recent but very cool too!), where we built marble tunnels (I swear! I have stored all that stuff in the basement for my kids’ kids!).

    I remember getting berated by a moo-cow next-door neighboor on my kids who weren’t wearing “bicycle helments”? Why aren’t your kids all-suited-up in the appropriate GEAR????

    Answer: b/c they are riding around the block & they NEED to learn getting into a CRASH!!!

    But the hardest battle was my own wife (a severe bovine – w/ her “play dates”, etc…) – she NEVER got it! (Still doesn’t!)

    Play dates for kids works AGAINST childrens’ NATURAL ability to self-organize and self-occupy! PERIOD

    Children are the BEST at sortin’ sh@t out and getting into a play mode – PERIOD!

    Let them do that!

    And then, to spark and harden their psychological and mythological underpinnings READ THEM SOME GOOD SHIITE! Like JRR Tolkiens Hobbit, or the LOTR Trilogy – get those myths DOWN!

    I remember reading the Trilogy to kids and I remember being SO tired when I did so (“Hey Gack, are you falling asleep? – You haven’t finished the chapter YET – Hey GACK!).

    But I got it done – and they are SO much better for it (thank Gawd!).

    While I never read them Edith Hamilton’s version of Greek mythology – we at least have discussed over and anon.

    And my 3 children are ANTI-almost EVERYTHING! (Sweet!!!).

    And Iam so proud of them – but I worry for them in this shiite economy – I doubt seriously that they will be able to raise a family in their “own” house.

    And in that regard, sadness onsets.

    BUT! At least these guys ARE REAL! (And this gives me HOPE!)

    I think I am done – only missed about 5 points I wanted to make this time…

  5. Splash Daddy says:

    February 23rd, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    One of the best presents we ever got was a huge pile of dirt dumped in the back yard. I did the same for my kids a few years ago.

  6. Tom Osborne says:

    March 2nd, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Karen, I remember, and loved all of those!  I also loved Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs and regular wooden blocks, and we also had large “bricks” made of cardboard, each brick was about 12″ x 6″ and there were enough of them that you could temporarily build a little house or some other structure that you could get inside of.  Thinking back on it, I can see that my brother and I liked building things, and when we were older, we could build forts out of actual wood and nails and spare hardware (hinges for doors, and the like).  Play Doh was wonderful, and I also loved Silly Putty.  

    I very much agree with Iluvitar about the value of parents reading to their children, which my parents did quite regularly, and also both sets of grandparents did, sometimes “deviantly”, which I loved, such as “Uncle Remus” was forbidden in our house because of the negative influence of the “bad language”; my mother was afraid that we would be tempted to talk like that, which would have been rude and inappropriate with us having black servants and workmen everywhere (this was North Carolina in the late 40s, early 50s), but one of my grandmothers read it to me when I was sick and my mother felt she would just leave the issue alone.  As for me, I could, and would, absorb any and everything, but could distinguish between the life and language in books and the life WE were living and the way we as polite, educated people should speak.  It was because of this being read to from a very young age that I learned how to read several years before I was even in nursery school (called pre-school, now).  By the time reading was being taught in school (“Dick and Jane”), I was already writing stories, and this is due to the interest that my parents generated.  They also discussed with us everything under the sun–philosophy, religion, science, history, sitting around in the living room in the evenings with a cozy fire going in the fireplace.  In fact all of our relatives and the friends of our parents were fascinating.  I just don’t understand my nephew and niece, who, when we, their uncles and aunts, come to visit, they would rather stay in their rooms and play video games.

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