Upon my retirement a few years ago, I bought a farmhouse, built in 1900, on about three acres thinking it would be a nice retreat and a place for my grandchildren to roam and create great memories. At the time I purchased the property my wife and I had no grandchildren, but one was on the way. Now our two daughters each have two children ranging from two to eight years of age. These four kids are the joys of our lives and much of my time is spent hoping to help guide them to be successful and to have great childhoods.
Naturally, our daughters have many friends with children, most of whom are in the same age range of my grandchildren. This fact and because we have this beautiful piece of property just a half hour from suburban St. Louis, my family occasionally hosts a party for the enjoyment of kids and their families to run, eat, and play.
In this digital age of busy, highly scheduled kids almost disappearing from yards and neighborhoods, I wanted to do something to bring alive, or even introduce children to, the joys of running in green grass and wading in creeks. The result is one of the most satisfying experiences imaginable.
What has changed in the last few years?
- A larger percentage of both parents work
- Technology has exploded
- More scheduled extra-curricular activities
- Organized team sports
- Musical training like piano
- Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
- More playtime is scheduled
- Gymnastics, etc.
- A heightened fear of many things and people caused in large part by the hyper-coverage of every event.
Kids often don’t have a parent with time to watch them play, nor will they trust them to play alone with friends. When it becomes supposedly safer to be indoors with Hulu, Roku or Apple TV with endless choices on Netflix, You-Tube, etc.; when social media can be addictive; when you are afraid someone will snatch your child from your driveway because it happens once every twenty million opportunities; when you need a business license to have a lemonade stand; when every moment of your life is planned - then green grass becomes landscaping and not a playing surface.
I have nothing against the items I listed above as having been changes of the last few years on their own. I like them all, except perhaps the increased fear. But even that has merit in some neighborhoods. But I do feel saddened that ‘free-range’ children are becoming rare and free time outside does not have a higher priority.
The Kids' Party (see video below)
Our last party was attended by 40-50 children and their parents. There were bouncy houses, a huge blowup slide, a zip line, a barrel train, UTV rides to the creek, playground swings and slides, cotton candy, lots of delicious food, and acres of trees and green grass. It was magical for me as I may have got more from the party than any of the kids. The joy on their faces, the excitement of their actions and their exhaustion at the end of the day were the answer to every question of “why do this”?
One of my daughter’s friends wrote to her after the party. Here’s what she had to say and it confirmed to me our goal was met.
“Zip lines, playing in the creek, rope swings, bounce houses, cotton candy, wide open spaces. Today was ‘childhood done right’.”
I have no doubt every kid there that day will remember the fun they had. Remember that a little non-structured play, outdoors, will add balance to your busy lives. Let them get sweaty and dirty. Have some band-aids nearby. Invite their friends over, get your kids outside!
For Fathers Day: Check out my book in hard copy, Kindle, Nook, or audio: "The Power of Dadhood"