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NOTHING TO DO?

During my years as a teacher I sometimes gave after-hours help to students who were struggling with certain concepts. Once I approached a grade nine girl just after she had again performed dismally on a geography quiz. It just didn’t seem right to me that anyone should go through life under the illusion that the Nile River flows through Edmonton or that the Precambrian Shield is a heavy-metal rock band.

Perhaps a couple of after-school sessions were in order, I suggested. She pulled a notebook from her book bag , thumbed through it and said, “OK, I can fit you in Tuesday.” She wasn’t kidding. Like many of her classmates her schedule was filled with music lessons, figure skating practices, 4-H meetings, basketball games and countless other commitments. Still, a common complaint, from parents as well as children, was “There’s not enough for young people to do in this town.”

This was a small rural community and most of its recreation was provided by dedicated and hard-working volunteers. They made available a host of enjoyable and beneficial activities. I not only applauded them, I took on some of those responsibilities myself. However, when confronted with kids who were, either by their own wishes or by parental pressure, “booked up” to the limit, I was uneasy.

Due perhaps to laziness or just plain perversity, I am somewhat resistant to large measures of highly organized and scheduled group activity.  I prefer spontaneous pursuits, accompanied by a small group, or one partner, or by no one. And it bothers me when children seem lost without some adult coach or supervisor telling them what to do next.

I guess that’s because, as a child on a farm in a newly settled and somewhat isolated district, I hardly knew what organized activity was. School Christmas concerts, the rare softball game against a neighbouring school, casual recess games at school  and footraces at community picnics were about the extent of it. Our roads were snow-clogged in winter, so my brothers and I could not take part in hockey until later years when we moved into a nearby village. Even then we had to shovel the snow off our outdoor rink in order to practice, and usually we played boisterous pickup games without adult supervision.

There was one movie a week, though most farm people couldn’t attend in winter. We swam in muddy creeks. We rode plough horses without saddles. We harnessed unwilling farm dogs to homemade sleds. We skated on the creeks. From poplar and willow we made slingshots, bows and arrows. From scrap wood we made toys. We built log cabins in the poplar bluffs and rafts with which to sail the sloughs.

There was no TV, no internet, no telephones  in private dwellings, no electric power in the town until the mid-1950s or on most farms until later. We listened to the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid on radio. We were obsessed with cowboy lore. Often we “galloped” on foot around the fields and roads, “shooting” one another with homemade toy pistols, acting out entire Western dramas composed on the spot. And we read books, magazines and comics when available.

Some of these pursuits were foolish and dangerous: forming “armies” and shooting at each other with homemade “guns” that fired high-velocity arrows launched by inner-tube rubber bands. Riding the spring ice floes on the CPR dam, and more.

Most of these pastimes were carried on without adult input. We had to do the planning, the organizing and the execution, all with no funding and with scanty materials.

So I was delighted to find the following studies, which I presented in a 2015 column:

*A Ryerson University survey found that children who are given freedom to explore on their own, without adult supervision, are more physically active and healthier than those too often engaged in supervised activity.

*Matthew Bowers, one of the researchers in a University of Texas study stated that “time spent playing informal sports was significantly and positively related to overall creativity, while time spent playing organized sports was significantly and negatively related to overall creativity.” In other words, unorganized play seemed to foster creativity, while organized sport suppressed it.

Something to think about.


Contact Terry or Esther at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306-426-2409

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Wednesday November 17, 2021