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Childhood Play [publisher's letter]

Tracy Patterson

This month’s feature, 21st Century Parenting: Preparing Kids for the Future, immediately made me think back to my childhood and the many hours spent with friends in one of our yards, in a close-by field, or playing in the river. There were lots of kids on our street, and quite likely today we would be labeled with some kind of acronym because of our endless energy and unwillingness to be inside and stay still, even for dinner.

It wasn’t necessarily safe back then either. My childhood home was in a neighborhood that harbored the “southwest rapist” when my parents were first looking to buy there. It was unnerving to them, but it was a good neighborhood in a great part of the city, and they didn’t let it deter them. Instead, they bought a bigger breed of dog! A Hungarian vizsla, for those of you who are curious. It all worked out; the rapist was caught, and that was definitely the start of our street-smart lessons.

Speaking of dogs, one particularly fun activity when I was quite young was to build a jump course in my front yard. My friends and I would haul out all kinds of sticks, blocks and other paraphernalia to make an actual course of what we thought were beautiful jumps. Then we would have little competitions with our dogs with prizes and all! It was kind of like an agility course, except that we had never heard of such a thing in the “formal” sense, and so this idea was completely our own creation. And of course, we jumped with our dogs to add to the fun—there was no sitting around for us!

We loved to roam in the field at the end of our street. To us it was like the wilderness, and in some respects it was, with long grass and trees, and the deer, rabbits, birds and other critters who lived there. We’d spend hours stretching our creative minds in this little piece of nature, studying some insect, playing hide and seek, or just running wild, enjoying the freedom.

When I was a little older (still a young teenager), we’d head down to the river, which was close enough to walk to from our street. We’d bring our air mattresses and inner tubes, and the dogs of course, and spend the day floating down the river. Unfortunately, we had to float down, walk back up, float down again—you get the picture. On the odd occasion, we’d rope one of our parents into a more elaborate plan where they’d drop us off at one end and pick us up later at a chosen point—that was a real treat!

I have many fun stories about my childhood and the creative play that ensued every single day in some form or another. I’m sure that some of you reading this grew up having similar experiences. Without the encumbrance of adults, we were able to play, create and form a bond with nature, one that I know I cherish to this day.