A few summers ago, my daughter (then 5) broke her arm falling off the monkey bars.
When she got the cast off and had fully healed, she asked me if I could lift her up to the monkey bars and try again. I didn’t hesitate. Absolutely.
I mean, shouldn’t she work on her monkey bars skills so she doesn’t fall again? (By the way, have you tried the monkey bars as an adult? Really hard.)
And I have tried to never say to my children, “Don’t climb up the slide. It’s only for coming down!” in that sing songy voice. They should climb up it – as long as someone isn’t coming hurtling toward them. Who made this “no climbing up the slide” rule anyway? A jungle gym should be climbed, swung on and conquered.
And the other day, when I was at a playground with my kids, they looked up at this gigantic hill and said, “Can we roll down that?”
This time I did hesitate, because there are no hills in South Florida and I knew it was a garbage landfill under that hill. But I finally relented to their pleadings.
“Okay, let’s go roll down it!”
And as the sun set, they rolled again and again with shrieks of joy and not one sibling squabble. It didn’t even smell. I have no idea how that’s possible. Landfill magic.
This is what children are meant to do. Not spend hours and hours and hours sitting. But yet, we constantly try to demand that of even young children. According to Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of “Balanced and Barefoot,” “Elementary children need at least three hours of active free play a day to maintain good health and wellness. Currently, they are only getting a fraction of this time.”
This week, I spent over an hour trying to help my 6 year old son learn his spelling words. They were just too hard for him. He struggled with tears in his eyes as he misspelled them again and again. I was frustrated and impatient. He felt not-so-smart. I finally said, enough.
“You have done great Chase. You have mastered a bunch of words. Not all of them. But you will learn them in time. We will work on them one by one. Now go out and jump on the trampoline.”
And that’s what he did. I really believed it restored his emotional balance.
Our education system may be demanding unrealistic things from our children. But I don’t have to. I don’t care what he got on that spelling test. I want learning to be a fun experience (he’s in first grade and he adores his teacher!). And then he needs to be free to move.
Hanscom says in a Washington Post article that occupational therapists like herself are trying to get kids wiggling again.
“We encourage children to go upside down, to jump off objects, to climb to new heights and spin in circles to give them a better sense of body awareness. All of these rapid and changing movements shift the fluid around in the inner ear to develop a strong vestibular (balance) sense. A unifying sense, the vestibular system supports good body awareness, attention and emotional regulation. These skills are fundamental to learning in the classroom.”
The truth is kids spend way too much time sitting… from school to the car to homework to sedentary activities. And when they can play, adults are always trying to limit them.
“We say things like, “Get down from there, you are going to get hurt.” And, “Stop spinning, you are going to get dizzy.” We keep children in an upright position for the majority of their day. This does little to stimulate and challenge the senses. Its no wonder our kids are fidgeting like crazy, crying at the drop of a hat and slumping over their desks like rag dolls,” says Hanscom.
So get dizzy. Fall over. Swing on the monkey bars. Climb up the slide.
Let’s stop telling kids “to be safe” and start telling them “to spin.”
Their health depends on it.