March of 1987 was a good time for me. I was 6 years old, and enjoying life in my first grade class at Fox Run School in Norwalk. My teacher, Mrs. Lissio, was teaching the class to read and I clearly remember learning my address and having to memorize it. My day consisted of simple things like going to school, playing on the playground and coming home to play outside with my neighborhood friends until it was time to come in for dinner. No adults allowed!
These days, my 6-year-old son is also in first grade. He also goes to school, plays on the playground and outside. However, his day looks very different from my 6-year-old day. Here’s how:
1. The playground
In 1987, the playground at my elementary school was made of metal and old rubber tires. Both were scorching hot in the late Spring and early Fall sun. And freezing cold and slippery in the winter. Did that stop us? No way! We played on that thing every day. And if when someone broke his or her arm, we just thought, “Well, yeah, sounds about right. Hope it doesn’t happen to me!” But we still played again the next day.
The 2017 first grade playground is made of industrial strength plastic that never gets hot enough to burn a child. It has reclaimed wood chips or recycled rubber for a soft place to fall, so broken bones are kept to a minimum. Nothing is too high, too open, or too hard. Safety first? Yes, indeed!
On my first day of kindergarten I was put on the bus and sent to school without hesitation by my mother. By first grade I was pretty much a public transportation expert. On the weekends, if I wanted to go visit a friend who didn’t live on my street, I hopped on my pink, banana seat bike and rode over to her house. No helmet or cell phone in sight.
Today, my son is driven to school where a million parents wait in a “car line” to drop off their kids. If he wants to play with a friend who lives outside our neighborhood he asks ME to “schedule a play date” for him. Like I’m a social director on a cruise ship. And who am I kidding? I am!
In my free time (which was every day after 3 p.m. since I had no homework) I played outside in all weather. There was a little river at the bottom of my cul-de-sac, and I often met my neighborhood friends and siblings there after school to make mudpies and jump across slippery rocks. Or we jumped on a trampoline that we had stumbled upon in the woods. It was most likely in someone’s back yard, but to us it seemed like it was ours and we treated it as such. It was old and rusty, and it was missing a good amount of springs. When mom shouted out the front door that dinner was ready, we all came out of the woods and went home for the night.
In 2017, it often feels like it’s mom’s job to keep the kids entertained. Netflix? The iPad? Play dates? My 6-year-old has it all. He also has taekwondo twice a week, computer programming as an after school program while I am still at work, and a standing appointment with an OT for now. Entertainment for him is very often scheduled in the form of these after school activities. He does get a lot of outdoor time on the weekends and during recess at school, but it’s not nearly the freedom that I had at age six.
The expectations for me in 1987 were simple. Go to school, play outside, repeat. I don’t remember one night of homework. In 2017, My 6-year-old has homework every night. He has to work on reading and writing and is supposed to do some additional practice on an iPad app. It’s a lot for a little guy to manage after a full day of school. For someone who still falls asleep in the car half the time, doing more work after he gets home takes a mountain of effort.
Different times for sure! And although times have changed for 6-year-olds, neither lifestyle is better or worse. I still believe in the “play hard” part of the saying “work hard, play hard,” and I try to give my little guy as much outdoor and free play time as I can.