We go to a lot of parks. I think it’s important for children to have the opportunity to spend time outside playing. No matter what amenities various parks have, the natural amenities are the things which draw my children in. My kids love to play with sticks, acorns, and rocks and to dig in the dirt. Whether they are making mud cookies for plants or a house for little gnomes, their imaginations have no bounds.
Sadly, most of the kids we see at parks aren’t allowed to have free play. Parents and caregivers are reminding them of how to properly use playground equipment, to hurry up, or not to get dirty. My kids are the ones sharing their newly acquired stick collection with those less fortunate children – the ones without any snazzy new sticks.
Last year I had taken my children to one of our favorite parks. It has the typical playground equipment, although with a nature feel to it. However, the exciting aspect is that it has lots and lots of trees to run around. Sticks and leaves are plentiful and can be used for all forms of creative play. It’s a little oasis in an area filled with concrete parks with generic playground equipment.
Par for my children, they were in the midst of play, a pile of sticks in hand. Other children, curious as to what mine were doing, were coming up to them to peek. My older son was dutifully offering sticks to the curious onlookers who, eyes full of wonder, grasped the sticks as if they had never held one. The group was gathering and the game was becoming more intricate when one little girl came up. My son offered her a stick and she squated, digging in the dirt.
The children were playing when the little girl’s grandmother came up. She demanded that the girl put down the stick and go play. Of course, the girl was engrossed in her digging. Next the grandmother threatened that they would leave if the little girl didn’t go play. When the girl replied that she was playing, the grandmother threatened to hit her for talking back. The other kids scattered and my children looked to me, confused by what was going on. I suggested we go down and look at the ducks, conveniently away from the scene.
I’m forced to wonder about a world where a four year old girl can’t pay with sticks and dirt at the park.