Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nature-Underprivileged Kids

I had an interesting conversation recently around the idea of the "underprivileged" or the "underserved."  This typically refers to those that have fewer resources available to them.  Less money, less formal education, fewer opportunities, etc. But, when it comes to children and Nature Deficit Disorder I think that many financially privileged children will fall into the "underprivileged" category primarily because they are over-scheduled by their parents thus not allowing them enough unstructured play time in the outdoors. These children are also more likely to have the latest video games, computers and cell phones vs families that simply can't afford them.
I'll refer back to my own family some 5 or 6 years ago.  At the time we were doing quite well financially as the economy was on an upswing and the housing market in Arizona was booming.  I thought I was doing my children a great service by providing tons of extracurricular activities to keep them busy and broaden their little minds.  These activities included:  dance (ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop), acting (classes and private coaching sessions), basketball, soccer, baseball, guitar and piano.  Exhausting just to list it!  I kept a folding chair, a box of snacks and a bag of magazines in my car to occupy my time while I waited patiently each day.  Some days we had little to no downtime after school. We rushed everywhere and often attended 2 activities back to back.  We were all exhausted by the end of the day and our weekends were booked solid with games, tournaments, play rehearsals, etc. Sometimes there were tears and begging "please, can't I just SKIP IT today?"

I thought my kids were LUCKY, PRIVILEGED, and HAPPY.  I thought I was "supermom."  But deep down, I knew I was wrong!
Skip forward a few years.  I find our lives changing as the economy has tanked and we have less disposable income.  I begin cutting out unnecessary and expensive things.  When my son begins begging me to stop going to dance and music lessons I decide it's not worth it if I'm having to force him anyway.  Eventually we eliminate almost every "organized" activity...and our lives changed for the better.     

Now I don't want this to sound like I think organized sports or extracurricular activities are a bad thing because I don't. Playing on a team teaches a great deal of fundamental life skills including how to simply BE part of a team.  It teaches you the importance of practice in order to improve your skills, patience with yourself and others as you learn something new, how to handle losing and winning graciously, how to celebrate in others successes and how to set goals and achieve them.  But, it also takes a major time commitment.
So why do I think our lives have improved since we freed up our schedules?  Well, my kids now have time to play after school.  They come home and do their homework but then head outside to play with kids in the neighborhood or simply go exploring...and I don't insist on watching their every move.  I give them freedom to roam and check out the neighborhood (they are 8 and 11).  They dig, climb, run, bike, investigate, learn and mostly just de-stress after a long day at school. And they're very well rounded, well-adjusted and bright children who don't seem to be missing out on anything.
Our family is less stressed because we're not rushing from one activity to the next.  Our weekends are also free from tournaments, practices, games and recitals so this leaves more time for what we really love doing which is camping, hiking and just about anything else that involves the outdoors.  We also eat most of our dinners at home now (we used to do a lot of drive thru dinners).  We have more family time and we've gotten to know one another better.
I guess what I'm suggesting is that people find balance.  I know I lacked this in the past so I'm speaking from experience. Parents, don't make it about you.  Just because your kids are in a ton of activities doesn't mean you're a great parent...it just means you're a busy parent and a busy family.  And maybe your child truly loves every activity they're involved in...but I doubt it.  Parents need to stop and listen to their children and actually ask them what they think and what they like and don't like.  Then they might consider paring down the list of extracurricular activities.  This will allow families to spend more quality time together...preferably in the out-of-doors!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nature's Water Park

This summer I bought water park season passes for me and my kids at $50 a  pop.  I thought for sure we'd use them to help us get through another Arizona summer.  I even suggested that a couple of my girlfriends buy them too.  We'd all go together, right?  Wrong.

Fortunately, the boys did go about a half dozen times with their dad.  I took them once on a Friday night for the dive-in movie.  The crowd was unreal, the lines were outrageous and the food was unbelievably expensive and unhealthy.  It was seriously like a form of torture for me to get through the night.  I think we only rode 4 slides in the 4 hours that we were there and I dropped nearly $30 on dinner.

I never went back this summer and I have no interest in ever going again.  Sorry kids.  I know they had fun but it's just not for me.  I don't have the patience to stand in long lines where the payoff only lasts 30 seconds.


But, twice this summer I took the kids to Fossil Creek outside of Strawberry, AZ.  Talk about a water park! This beautiful natural spring set in a lush, green canyon is truly one of the most beautiful places in Arizona! Who needs a water park when you have places like this to visit and spend the day.  I'd much rather spend my money on the gas to get there!

I don't normally enjoy swimming all that much.  I more prefer to sit on the side and watch the kids splash and play.  But, at Fossil Creek you can't help but feel like a kid again.  I found myself jumping off of cliffs into deep blue pools, borrowing child sized goggles to get a better look at all the native fish so visible in the clear waters and simply relaxing and listening to the glorious sounds of the area.  The rushing water splashing over the rocks, the loud buzz of the cicada's and the glorious sound of children laughing and playing.  I look forward to returning again and again to Nature's Water Park!