June 8 is my oldest daughter’s birthday, usually a day well suited to a birthday party. Happy Birthday, Cassidy!
It is also National Get Outdoors Day, an effort begun in 2007 to get people off the couch and into the countryside. To us old fogies who grew up when kids spent as much time outdoors as indoors, it seems preposterous to have a day devoted to getting out of the house. However, we have all noticed a marked decline in the number of children you see outside of the regular places they tend to gather — organized sports, school, and the mall.
In fact, I was struck this past winter on a rather mild school snow day not to see one single kid walking the streets with a shovel, ready to make a few bucks clearing sidewalks. I wondered if the reason was that kids don’t need spending money any more, or if they just don’t go outdoors for physical activity of any kind.
Not too long ago, kids were out playing in the neighborhood from early morning to early evening on a weekend or summer day, no matter the weather. Back then every kid had a pair of rubber boots and a slicker. They would play so hard they would almost fall asleep in the bathtub, and drop off the minute their heads hit their pillows.
They came in for meals, and then, unless they were pressed into service doing dishes, sweeping floors, taking out the trash, or doing homework, were right back outdoors to play with friends. They stuck to the neighborhood for the most part, but would often make forays into bordering neighborhoods, or ride bikes to the house of a friend who lived in another part of town.
Long bike trips with a packed lunch were not uncommon. One of our favorite childhood bike rides was to the next town over, where there was a women’s prison with massive grounds where we could catch grasshoppers in the fields, or tadpoles in the creek. One day, we summoned our courage and actually rode our bikes right through the main compound. It was thrilling, until a woman called out to us from behind bars, “Hey kids! How’s the free world?” That was just too unsettling to attempt again. It also gave me a kind of scare about prisons, a good thing. Back to the outdoors.
Until relatively recently, neighborhoods were considered safe places. You watched out for other people’s kids, and they for yours. What ended that? More parents working away from home? Cable television? Computers? Cell phones? It’s funny that the very technological advances that should bring people together more easily are the things that keep them from real “face time” with neighbors.
Kids belong outdoors, playing. It isn’t enough to have organized sports (especially since they tend to eat up not only the child’s time but family time as well) because there will always be kids who do not “do” sports, but who could still play neighborhood ball, ride bikes, skate, swim, whatever. We love to blame childhood obesity (and adult obesity) on fast food and soft drinks. The real reason for obesity is that people consume more calories than they burn off in physical activity. Parents don’t make kids work in the yard, or walk to where they are going. We are doing our children a great disservice.
I guess if we need a day to urge people to get outdoors and actually move, so be it, and I’ll endorse it. It will take a huge societal change to get people outdoors the rest of the 364 days of the year — especially when so many forces are at work against it, including adult efforts to always control our children’s play time.
Saturday, June 8, is supposed to be nearly 70 degrees, and…don’t hold your breath…not raining. Let’s take to the outdoors and enjoy many of the benefits of living in Winona. Don’t think you have to join the Trinona to get some exercise. A walk, run, or ride around the bike path, a swim at Aquatic Center, or tending to a garden will all get you outdoors and on the road to better living.