Where Have All the Children Gone?


It’s summer in Oregon. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the sky is a deep cobalt blue. As I travel around the neighborhood riding my bike or running some miles I keep pondering a question. Where have all of the children gone? 

I wonder this because the weather is spectacular. There is no better time to be outside in Oregon than right now. School is out, the streets are quiet, the parks are plentiful, and all of the children are out of school. What a great time to be young. 

There are hundreds of children in my neighborhood, I know this because I see them in the morning and the afternoon, year around, waiting for the school bus to pick them up and drop them off. Now that school is out for the Summer I see no children. Where did they go? 

Maybe they are at camp? Summer camp is a traditional part of the childhood experience, but usually lasts only a few weeks of the summer. Maybe they are at sports camps, learning new skills in a sport they love. I don’t know if sports camps last all summer, do they? Maybe the children are at academic camp, brushing up on math, science, and reading in preparation for the upcoming school year.

They could be inside playing video games and interacting with other media. I am wondering because I feel an opportunity is being missed. A large part of learning and growing is being on your own, with friends, creating and experimenting with the knowledge you acquire in life. For children this is done through free play. 

When I was a young we were always outside. My parents gave us breakfast and then strongly suggested we take our bikes and go find someone in the neighborhood to play with. This was the time when we learned new things, tried out new ideas, good and bad, learned social skills, and engaged in plenty of exercise. Our work as a child was to be outside playing until it was time to come home for lunch or dinner. Hanging around the house was not an option. 

I am not a parent, so I base this experience on once being a child. I never watch the news, so is it possible that children are not outside because parents believe it is unsafe? If safety is not the issue, what could be the cause for no children playing outside?

Has the culture changed? Am I an old person wishing for things to be like the good old days? Did I miss the announcement when children and people in general stopped going outside. I really don’t know the answer.

Another way to address this subject is by talking about the benefits of children being outside playing with friends in unscripted free play?

One benefit is developing a well-rounded education. Children spend many hours in school learning facts and figures. In my opinion, the purpose of learning this information is to apply it to something. When children engage in free play outside, the experience opens up opportunities for the knowledge gained in school to be used in the context of creating, experimenting, and discovering.

Hanging out, creating things to do, and socializing invites children to use the knowledge they have for the purpose of making a better life. This type of play is active and more beneficial than many passive activities children might engage in. Engagement is the key to learning. Engagement is challenging for children when they are being told what and how to do things all of the time. They appear active but the meaning is stripped away by someone or something doing the act for them.

The application of knowledge is important because this is how humans move from reading to knowing. Words divulge information and children are able to repeat this information on a test, but to make it useful, and lasting, the information needs to be applied to something. The words need to relate to something tangible.

School begins in about a month. After Labor Day, I will again see hundreds of children walk down to the school bus for their first day. For their benefit, I wish they would go outside sooner.