Saturday, August 1, 2009


We're walking in the redwood forest... ancient trees are swaying lightly as the breeze stirs the lowest branches. The sunlight filters down through the high canopy and creates an ever-changing mosaic of light on the pathway. The only sounds are the songs of birds, the chattering of chipmunks, the scolding of jays, and the whisper of the wind. These trees are fifteen feet in diameter and a thousand years old! This is a sacred and beautiful place and it feels wonderful to be here. "There are so many things to see, hear, feel, and experience here," I'm thinking as I walk along.

And then.

Along comes a young mother with her baby in a stroller. The baby's eyes are glued to a portable video player in the stroller, and the baby is watching the movie "Shrek." On the tiny video screen I could glimpse images of cartoon trees and animals in a pretend forest. The baby was seeing, hearing, and experiencing nothing in the real world around her. I wanted to scream, I wanted to shake that misguided young mom, I wanted to throw that video player in the creek! But of course I didn't do anything. I just cried later as I told my husband about it, and I ranted about this incident to my college students and parenting classes for the rest of the year.

This seems like a very obvious Crime Against Natural Childhood. But think. What kinds of things did I do when my kids were little that may have been similar "crimes," although not as egregious? What kinds of crimes do you commit? Video player in the minivan? So many of us are willing to sacrifice our children's learning for a little peace and quiet while in the car. TV or videos late in the afternoon because "we're all tired?" Why wouldn't simple water play in the back yard provide a more relaxing and productive remedy for exhaustion and still allow you to get your chores done? The trip to Disneyland might be better spent at the beach. The kids would really rather just play in the sand anyway, wouldn't they? Planting seeds in cups and watching them grow with your toddler and his friend might be a better learning experience than signing up for another "enrichment" class.

Nature is the best playmate, the best teacher and the best playground. We just need to put away our gadgets and be ready to play.

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