I was stunned when our oldest daughter, at about the age of five, casually mentioned Hannah Montana. At that time, she was neither spending time at other kids’ houses nor watching TV without me knowing. How did she even come across the character? I didn’t necessarily have anything against Hannah Montana, although I knew with certainty that she had not been exposed to that highly contagious virus at home.
More recently, our youngest daughter donned a pair of my heels and threw a white, gauzy piece of netting over her head and gazed at me modestly from beneath it… at the ripe old age of fifteen months. Where would she even come across the concept of a bride?
Over the long weekend, we stayed at a cabin in the woods on the edge of a lake with a hefty supply of pine needles, cones, rocks, sticks and other assets for four girls under the age of nine. They did not disappoint, and began carving spears, bows and arrows.
Their intent seemed to be inspired by The Hunger Games, which none of them have read or seen. I did hear Sophie and a neighborhood boy discussing “playing Hunger Games,” and the boy enthused about the challenges awaiting them and the fact that “sponsors would send meals.”
This was all pretty fine with me. There’s no need for Sophie to see or consider some of the disturbing scenes of kids killing kids for quite a while, but the trickle-down effect – of kids desiring to have the skills and wherewithal to survive in the woods if not even develop a special relationship with particular trees (see page 2!) – is a positive thing.
The outdoors is a place to be enjoyed, and something that all kids should experience more regularly. I remembered “playing Star Wars,” as well as He-Man and G.I. Joe with my cousins as kids. We hadn’t seen any of the shows or movies, but their existence was sufficient to furnish plot lines. We were soldiers challenged with survival in a foreign land. We were warriors with nothing but our wits about us. We were explorers in a galaxy far, far away.
While playing Swiss Family Robinson or Sacajawea might be more appealing from a literary or historical sense, television shows and movies (even those never viewed and the simple, secondhand rumor of their premise) can have an interesting, powerful and positive effect on kids’ imagination and outdoor play.
More spears and poison darts, please.
As an aside, I’m a huge fan of my friend Ken Finch’s Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood – check out Sophie mentioned in one of their newsletters last year and download a free copy of A Parents’ Guide to Nature Play!