The question which lingered on my mind during our walk today was, “what do kids really need?” I was thinking not in terms of their general care, but in terms of their play. I am amazed by the way children are targeted by marketing efforts and by the sheer volume of products that exist in order to entertain, many of which are linked in some way to electronic media. A large number of mainstream toys seem to do the playing for the kids, thus leaving no space for simple make-believe, imaginative exploration, learning about cause and effect relationships, healthy risk taking, or cooperating with others.Numerous playthings are directly connected to some television or movie character thus scripting the kids’ play to remain within the realm of a particular character’s story line. And oftentimes, a toy or even a play structure in a playground, serves one purpose only–is to be played with or on in a predetermined way–again leaving no room for kids’ to create the play on their own terms.
So, while not in so many words, this was what was on my mind during our Cranberry Lake hike. Because the kids were completely engaged. Sans bells and whistles, plastic or plugs. With sticks and maps and a sense of courageous adventure, they headed out on the trail, pushing ahead of the adults the entire time.
A man-made cave was encountered. They went about exploring the cave, tentatively at first, watching to see who would be the brave one to cross the threshold and then following her in. They wondered why it was there, the ground strewn with fresh straw. Whose home was it? Bears maybe? Or snakes? There was an opening in the back and they quickly discovered the clever escape hatch, hoisting themselves through while others boosted from within.
Around a bend stood a woodland waterfall; a brook cascading down a hill. Rock bridges to cross, moss to examine, slippery slopes to navigate successfully and unsuccessfully. One of them landed in a pool of cold brook water, socks soaked, morale temporarily doused. She chose the stepping stone decorated with an icy sheen. Empathic parents offered fresh socks. Mama hugged the wet, grumpy girl. Swapped damp mittens for dry ones.
They watched us, the semi-floundering adults, as we struggled to read the trail map, searching for corresponding blazes. They poured over their own maps, looked around at the terrain and proclaimed that we were indeed on the blue trail, and confidently led the way.
And they wasted not a moment upon reaching the quarry site, scrambling up the rock outcroppings of an old quarry wall. Here the parents swung into action, spotting kids as they climbed, giving them room to find their footing on their own, to figure out the safe, secure path to the top.Dads positioned themselves strategically, lowering kids down the wall’s backside, where they could amble back down safely only to run around and climb it again.
Make-believe, imaginative exploration, cause and effect relationships, healthy risk taking, and cooperating with others. It’s all happening on the trail.
Not to be overlooked was our very special visit to Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown today. What a wonderful place. An organization called Something Good in the World has its Children’s Environmental Education Center in residence at the Farm and offers a multitude of enriching, quality experiences for children and families. Today we joined them for their Sounds Good program for an Irish music and dance celebration. Everyone enjoyed the great music and the beautiful farm grounds. It was great meeting new Kids Unplugged supporters at the event this afternoon!
Note: The fantastic rock climbing title shot was provided by Emilia Monteforte. I said at the end of the hike that I was sure someone got a great shot at the quarry, and that’s it! Thanks, Emilia.