If school was out, kids were out.
We took it literally. So did our parents. From the day doors flew open on that last day of school, kids were outside riding bikes, running to friends' houses, throwing water balloons, making up street games, skinning knees and getting, as my mom said, “filthy-dirty.”
Boredom was the great creator of stuff to do.
I remember holding the hose a few feet off the ground — at hurdle-height — so my sister could run across the lawn and jump over it.
Mothers kicked kids out on summer mornings. By the time I was 9, I was riding my bike alone to Spokane's Comstock Pool. I'd swim all afternoon. These were normal summer days for every school-age kid I knew.
The annual Get Movin' program, which rewards Snohomish County kids for being active, marks its seventh year this summer. It took reading the program's details to have it sink in — childhood as I knew it has largely disappeared.
To qualify for Get Movin' prizes, kids are asked to be active for a half-hour five times per week. That modest goal is an eye-opener for anyone my age. Seriously, little more than two hours of activity in a whole week? A typical 1960s child would have run that long on any summer day.
This is not intended to be a criticism of the Get Movin' program.
It's a laudable effort sponsored by the YMCA of Snohomish County, Stevens Hospital, The Everett Clinic and The Herald. The modest activity goal is aimed at getting children hooked on the fun and fitness benefits of exercise — we used to call it play.
Last summer, 3,000 kids participated in Get Movin.'
It's a fun way to take on a grave problem. According to the Snohomish Health District, one in 10 Snohomish County 10th-graders is obese or overweight. Nationally, first lady Michelle Obama has launched Let's Move, a campaign to tackle childhood obesity.
To find the culprits, look at the cultural changes since my childhood. We had fast food, but not often. Most moms were home, and meals were cooked from scratch. There were no computers.
And except for Saturday morning cartoons, TV had little to offer kids.
Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” believes overprotective parenting is also to blame. A syndicated columnist from New York, Skenazy caused a stir in 2008 when she wrote about letting her 9-year-old son ride the subway — the New York City subway — by himself. On her website Skenazy wrote: “He got home about 45 minutes later, ecstatic with independence.”
“Everybody has started thinking of a normal childhood as dangerous, even though crime is down since the 1970s and '80s,” Skenazy said Thursday from New York. On May 22, she promoted a “Take Our Children to the Park ... And Leave Them There Day.”
Skenazy shared an amazing example of changed attitudes, which was covered in 2007 by The New York Times.
“Sesame Street: Old School,” a DVD of the earliest episodes of the children's show, starts with this disclaimer added by the producers: “These early ‘Sesame Street' episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child.”
“They show kids playing outside, playing follow the leader in a vacant lot,” Skenazy said. They are having milk and cookies, playing outside without an adult and talking to very pleasant strangers.
The DVD's disclaimer is “stark evidence that the idea of playing outside is radical, incredibly dangerous, and litigiously insane.”
I told Skenazy about Get Movin.'
“It's not a bad idea to get kids out there for a half-hour,” she said. “It's retraining. They don't know how to play.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn about the local Get Movin' program, which rewards kids for being active: www.get-movin.org
To find out about Let's Move, First Lady Michelle Obama's effort to end childhood obesity: www.letsmove.gov
To read about Free-Range Kids, writer Lenore Skenazy's approach to what she sees as overprotective parenting: http:// freerangekids. wordpress.com
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