This past weekend I had breakfast with my younger brother, his girlfriend, my fella, and his kids in Flagstaff. I asked my brother a question my fella had asked me before about my siblings. I come from a big family – 4 brothers, and 2 sisters, and me. My folks were and are very loving, but also very strict parents. They told us to be respectful and also aware of our surroundings – especially when we played outside. We played and worked for hours. Time almost didn’t exist. If any of us ventured inside the house while the sun was up, then we were promptly told to turn around and go outside and play.
“Play” included chopping wood, feeding, training, and riding horses, herding sheep, and exploring the foothills of Black Mesa. There were a variety of games to play as well – like collecting smooth rocks in different colors and grouping them as animals to tend. Imagination was fun. Work was hard, but fun too. When tension between siblings erupted in the house, each was told to go outside, complete a specific chore, and THINK. My parents said to think about the world and how it works; watch the animals and the way they interact; and then think about yourself and your actions. I shoveled many a pile of horse manure, and didn’t mind because I had to observe and connect myself to the world. I learned many lessons during those time.
It may seem I’ve lost my train of thought, but let me get back to my point – my fella had asked me how my parents raised and disciplined seven children. I said they sent us outside to work and play. I don’t think he believed me … I didn’t believe me after I heard myself say it. But that was my initial response. Now, there is an age-gap with my siblings. When I left for college, I missed five years of my three youngest brothers’ childhood, and I wondered if my parents had changed their parenting styles between the older and younger children. Like, did they soften up? (Of course they did) But when I asked my brother what our parents did with them, he said, “They sent us outside?” His face became unsure as he heard himself give that reponse. I reassured him that it wasn’t strange, and said, “Don’t worry, I answered the same way!”
Why tell this story about play and my childhood? Because I read an article about Finland’s elementary school where students are encouraged to play outside. That they have more recess time – about 75 minutes, as opposed to the 27 minutes in many US schools. My parents may have tired of us, and just sent us outside; but it was better that than in front of a television screen or a classroom stressed about state exams.
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