Then there was the time I “rented” two chicks from a local farm for a week, complete with cage and warming lights.
My two boys, ages 5 and 8 at the time, quickly realized that yes, the chicks were downy soft and could sprint quickly across the family room carpet, but that they also pooped copious amounts, and were continuously noisy.
I, and they, quickly grasped that keeping the rapidly growing chicks fed and their cage clean and odor free was a big job. I wasn’t sad to see “Spike” and “Cheep-Cheep” return to the farm at the end of seven days, but I was glad to give the boys an experience they still talk about.
Call it full immersion parenting, and for good reason.
The time kids spend outdoors has declined 50 percent in the past 20 years according to a study done by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
Reasons cited include population shifts to urban areas, an increase in kids’ indoor activities and a lack of awareness of nearby nature locations.
This decline prompted the USDA Forest Service and Ad Council to launch a public service campaign “encouraging families to experience nature first-hand” (www.discovertheforest.org).
You’ve probably passed by one of the billboards while whizzing down Route 22, 33 or 78 in your car. They feature forest animals juxtaposed next to technology, and encourage families to unplug and reconnect with nature.
As my kids get older, I don’t want the allure of being unplugged from technology to seem less appealing. Although you might call me a Luddite after seeing the one and only television we own, a 12-year-old, 27-inch Sony, the reality is we need technology to do our jobs and schoolwork, connect with family and friends, and help us unwind after a long day.
It’s just that staring at a screen doesn’t allow you to use all your senses fully.
“Breaking away from the draw of a well-crafted, image-laden on-screen story line requires broad cultural reinforcement. It helps to be aware of how important play is to one’s development,” says Stuart Brown, M.D., founder and president of the National Institute for Play. “To make that happen we need a change in public consciousness about play – to show it’s not trivial or elective – as well as focused community and parental support.”
A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically…”
According to the foundation, kids, ages eight-to-eighteen, spend over seven hours during the course of a typical day using entertainment media.
As parents, we all know it’s hard to compete with The Regular Show, Halo 4 and Angry Birds, and so convincing my boys to disconnect from technology in order to connect with nature has pushed me out of my comfort zone. Brown, author of the book Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, encourages parents to “model minimum screen time” and ideally to do this modeling from when their children are preschoolers.
After an almost two-decade hiatus, I started skiing again so I can enjoy passing time when my boys are on the slopes snowboarding.
I’m riding my bike on weekends with my older son and a biking group (thankful that Panera is conveniently located at the midpoint in our 17-mile rides).
I know that playing paintball, ziplining and rock climbing are going to be part of my very near future.
But it will be my husband, who has a fear of heights, who will be pushed out of his comfort zone the farthest when he fulfills a promise he made to our oldest son and rides Steel Force sometime this summer outside at Dorney Park.