Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Children at Play. Or Not.

I gotta put a plug in for a special that Mrs F saved from PBS that I watched last week, "Where Do Children Play?"

Fascinating stuff.

Filmed here in Michigan: in Detroit, rural Michigan and literally right down the street here in Ann Arbor, this special looks at how kids are playing—or not playing—and their relationship with nature, the outdoors and each other...

The environment/situation that comes across worst, and the one that presented with only the evidence in this show that I would chose last for my kids? The urban grit of Southwest Detroit? The isolation of Beaver Island? Nope. The supposed "ideal" of Ann Arbor—the tree-lined streets of our very own Old West Side, where the highly-regarded neighborhood elementary school is mere blocks away for every student, yet almost NONE of them walk to school. The town where every damn kid gets carted around in minivans from scheduled activity to scheduled activity, and no one goes to the playground.

We gotta get the hell out of here...

17 comments:

Toast said...

How is that going to be different elsewhere? That sounds exactly like the lifestyle parents describe here in CT too. I think that's just the way our culture has gone in terms of raising kids. 24x7 "structure". It's bullshit, but what are you gonna do?

Smitty said...
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Mr Furious said...

What you got going on in the FRV is even worse than here...at least we have sidewalks!

The whole Avon-Simsbury-Canton corridor is totally car-centric and I'm betting kids don't do half the outdoor shit I did twenty (er, thirty) years ago when I grew up there.

Getting driven to Fisher Meadows for soccer practice ain't what I'm talking about...

In the cities, kids walk places and hang around the neighborhood. They function out on their own. Same in the rural areas...It's the upper middle class suburbs and exburbs where this over scheduled compartmentilization is rampant.

michelline said...

We gotta get the hell out of here...

Why do you think it's different anywhere else? In most families, both parents work. Which means some form of daycare. Even though Libby COULD ride the bus (if we were willing to allow her to ride for over an hour and switch buses at the local high school), we'd never allow her to be a latchkey kid. We're lucky in that Libby's "daycare" is sponsored by our school system and we pay for AM and PM extended day.

Heck, Libby doesn't even go to our "neighborhood" school. Most kids in our county attend a school that is part of our Magnet system, which was created so we could stop forced integration busing. If a kid is white in her school, chances are that kid isn't a neighborhood kid.

Don't be thinking the grass is greener. It isn't.

Red State Blues said...

I was pondering the other day, as I sat in my backyard looking at the neighbor's most beautiful maple tree, the fact that my kids have never climbed trees. Now that they're teenagers, they probably never will. What a pity for them! Knee pads, helmets, safety first, safety first, blah, blah, blah. These poor kids growing up today. Getting driven around from place to place is just the start of it.

Deb said...

Both of you have sold me on hunting down this show, even if I have to buy it.

It's kind of ironic that the "safest" places to live seem to be the most cloistered and centered around indoor activities, based on what I've read about the show so far.

Mr Furious said...

Mish--

The grass CAN BE greener. That's the difference. From the description of the video/show:

Where Do the Children Play? is a one-hour documentary for public television that examines how restrictive patterns of sprawl, congestion, and endless suburban development across America are impacting children's mental and physical health and development.

Using the adage that children represent 20 percent of the world's population but 100 percent of its future, the film opens by examining differences between growing up today, with all its inherent obstacles and temptations, and childhood as it was lived 50 years ago.

To understand today’s children more acutely, the film team first visited Beaver Island where there are no McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Targets or Walmarts. There, children congregate by bike in the downtown area to play. All 85 students in grades one to twelve attend the only school on the island. Most use the computer as a tool for homework, but not for communication. And while they miss a lot of what their counterparts have on the mainland, Beaver Island children are keenly aware of nature and its importance to their lives and their well-being.

Second, the film looked at suburbs today, which have the greatest problems. Explosive growth patterns, massive highways, distant malls, create an isolated environment lacking in sidewalks or places to ride bikes, walk or play. Children tend to be driven indoors to computers and television for recreation, and then driven to a mall or a friend’s house by parents. Suburban kids, those ironically with the most opportunity in some areas, suffer the greatest health and psychological problems.

Third, the film team visited the city, which produced the greatest surprises as a place for children: for those not raised in crushing poverty, it still works. And surprisingly well. Despite obstacles and the media stereotypes, old neighborhoods function better than many suburbs, with parks and schools and a sense of community in which parents of different backgrounds often watch out for the safety of children, as they did generations ago when these places were built.


--

We address some of these things in the way that we parent. Almost NO television, there'll be no gameboys, etc and computers (despite our own addictions) will be only on a need-to-use basis. But the lifestyle of friends and neighbors is pervasive here. I was flabbergasted by the fact that none of the kids walk to the school here. But when i think about it, I'm not surprised.

Athletic fields are on the outskirts of towns on roads with no sidewalks and often no fucking shoulders. Kids couldn't ride bikes there if they wanted to.
When I lived in Brooklyn, Prospect Park was ALIVE! The playgrounds crowded, ad hoc teeball games set up between softball fields...hell, even the dogwalking community was tightly-knit (it's how I met Mrs. F.) Here in Ann Arbor we live downtown, but most of Ruby's friends from pre-school live in the enclave subdivisions 3-4 miles out of town. Some of those have play structures—but I've NEVER seen a kid on them...

Watch the show, and you'll see what I mean. It's environmental, it's cultural, and it's societal.

I plan on pushing back.

Mr Furious said...

Deb,

It's good. I think it will air on PBS stations soon, we got first crack at it here since it was a Michigan Public Television production.

If I find listings or an online source I will put it up.

More info on the show here, and there is a downloadable pdf fact sheet LOADED with what look to be promising links, books and info on child development and play, etc...

Mr Furious said...

From a google search result [link]:

It will be available to other PBS stations around the country in mid-May. If you would like your local PBS station to air it, call and ask to speak with the program director. Find contact information at www.pbs.org/stationfinder. Let the program director know the film is on the APT list of films (and therefore free to most stations). Direct her to www.wfum.org/childrenplay for more information.

angie said...

As an Ann Arborite and a girl who grew up in rural Michigan, I'd prefer to raise my kids in AA any day. Yes, we played more outside, but when there is nothing to do when you are a teenager all you do is drink and get pregnant. Seriously, a lot of my friends had kids upon graduation, some had 2. My first friend had a baby freshman year. So there are some severe disadvantages.

What you don't mention is that Almendinger park is always teaming with children playing. I see tons of people walking to get ice cream. On the AA parents list serv one of the reasons peopel said they don't let their kids walk to school is that parents who are dropping their kids off are always hurried and not so careful. I was actually surprised to hear that statistic about walking to school, because when I used to run in the morning and end at Jeff Mkt, i saw parents walking their kids to school. When i used to walk kirby near burns park school there were TONS of parents walking their kids to school. So I am a little skeptical about this.

Now I agree, the subdivision thing, yuck. Kids don't play together there. And tv etc. Totally agree (Nate still doesn't watch tv). But there are a lot of advantages to growing up in Ann Arbor vs. rural MI...it just depends on what you are measuring.

Mrs Furious said...

Angie,
Sadly we go to the park ALL the time and are literally the only people there.

angie said...

depends on when you go there, i'd imagine. if you go in the evenings or on weekends it's very full...Maybe slower during the work day, because fewer SAHMs in the area? Is that when you mostly go?

we go to wuerster almost every night and on the weekends and i have never been the only person there (since it has warmed up). And there are always more people at Almendinger than wuerster.

(Though the one time i went on Friday, that ended in the ER...we were the only ones there. Maybe it is a workweek thing)

Mr Furious said...

I'm not saying I want to live in the town from "Footloose" Ang...

I realize that life is what you make of it. My crack at the end of the post about needing to get out of here is hyperbole. As you know, I have been looking for a job (anywhere) for two years and we might move one of these days, and there is not question we'd be VERY torn about that.

I suppose, if anything, what I'd like to change most about my kids growing up and playing is more a question of when than where.

angie said...

you ever been to beaver island...that's a step up from the town in footloose :-)

i don't understand what you mean by when they play vs. where they play? maybe cuz i got 6 hours of sleep. i hate being a night owl :-)

angie said...

btw, since we didn't go to hotlanta, you are not allowed to move.

Mr Furious said...

i don't understand what you mean by when they play vs. where they play?

I meant the era.

I wish they could grow up 20 or 30 years ago instead of now. For all of the advances and modernization of today, I don't see ANY of it as beneficial to child development.

(Not counting medicine or psychological advances)

Bike helmets. That's it. Otherwise kids were better off twenty years ago.

But seriously, you have to watch the show to get what I'm saying. It made me wish my girls could have what I had growing up (more adventure, free play, woods, exploring, fending for themselves, etc.). Barring time travel, it made me wish (except for the schools) that we lived back in Brooklyn.

angie said...

i hear you...i totally agree. i do wish we could raise them in that era. Where we let kids run around outside, didn't worry about kidnapping, no video games, computers. just playing and being imaginative.

i tried to find it that night on tv. any chance you still have it on tivo?