Remember When We Used To Play Outside When We Were Kids?

playing outside

The lifestyle of kids today. Do they play outside anymore? It sure is different from when I was a kid. I’m talking about the years of life while we were living under the roof of our parents. Generally speaking, up through the teenage years.

In my view, the lifestyle of our kids ‘play’ has changed dramatically. Not for everyone, but certainly for most.

From birth through our early years in life, we begin as minds full of mush, being influenced and shaped into the basis of who we eventually become. Although “who we are” is an ongoing process, our early years are etched into our being. I personally believe that our lives as children, and then our teenage years as young adults, has significant influence on the rest of our lives.

We each have lots of memories from our childhood and early years. Lots of them from when we used to simply play outside. Maybe events that were especially impressionable. We can recall them from deep within the ‘memory bank’ in our brains.

When I was young, the computer did not exist. Well, there was the calculator. That was the ‘computer’ of my early years. My dad actually had an abacus!

I recall when I worked part time at a hardware store that had an old cash register with the mechanical push buttons. There’s nothing like operating one of those, and then the Cha-Ching when the register drawer would open… And we would have to count change, using our brains to do math…

Our lifestyle sure was different back then. Before computers. Before the internet.

We used to always play outside. The only time we were inside (after school) was when it was raining, or bad weather during the winter.

All of us kids eventually had bicycles. Getting your fist bike. It was freedom! All I wanted to do was ride. I recall all of the many bumps and scrapes from wiping out while racing around with the other kids on the street. Doing stupid stuff like building a jump ramp and having contests… (We do lots of stupid stuff when we’re kids!)

To play outside in the woods. Building “Forts”. Climbing trees. Getting poison ivy (yikes!). Getting dirty… Our immune systems sure did a lot of natural development back then!

To play outside street games. Many of which we would just make up. Or maybe Kick ball. All sorts of activities as the ‘pack’ of kids work out their positions while testing each others strengths and weaknesses.

There were no safe spaces, so to speak. You either were a sissy, or you were not. When called a sissy, (there was lots of name calling among boys), it somehow toughened you up. Which in my opinion was a good thing.

Yes, we boys would fight from time to time. A natural thing. And we weren’t sent to a psychologist or put on medications as a result…

Family vacations were all about being outdoors. Camping, or maybe renting a cottage somewhere. Exploring. Hiking. Swimming. Fishing.

I recall a small local lake owned/managed by the local church we would attend. I loved going there swimming. They had a nice platform out in the middle with a diving board, which was pretty high up off the water! (Today you never see diving boards any more). We would play all sorts of diving games and contests on that platform. I loved going there (pictured above from 1971, scanned from one of my dad’s slides from back then).

I’ll never forget the many times my dad would bring us fishing at a local small lake. Catching numerous little fish called a ‘Kiver’. Sometimes a Bass. A Perch. Or a Pickerel. Before we had ‘real’ fishing poles, we made our own with a stick, string, and a hook…and it worked! (No fish can resist a fat ‘night crawler’ worm!). Speaking of which, I recall picking my own nightcrawlers at night for fishing…

When we were young my dad built a sailboat from a kit. A small “Sunfish”. We would take that boat out on weekends to one of the several local lakes and sail. I’ll never forget taking it out by myself for the first time… kind of scary, but fun!

Eventually he bought a bigger sailboat, a daysailer (forgot the brand) with a small cabin (26′?). We would often go to Cape Cod for vacations and sail that boat out of Wellfleet or Truro. Great memories of outdoor fun and play from when we were young. Out on the ocean, fishing off the boat, catching Blues and the elusive Striped Bass. Flounder. Clamming (yum!). We almost sunk that boat once! Bailed with buckets – got towed in before it went under. (Good thing for VHF communication radios!)

Sometimes we would drive up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and go hiking. A few times overnight in one of the many ‘huts’ maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Climbed Mt. Washington a few times. I really enjoyed those times hiking in the mountains as a young boy.

Us kids and the neighbor kids would sometimes play Croquet. Outside! (sarc). Our neighbor had a nice set and we would have many a tournament during the summer in their backyard.

I recall helping on my Uncle’s dairy farm during hay season. The cousins would be recruited to help get the job done, from loading bails in the field onto the flatbed, to stacking bails in the barn. Talk about physical work! Those bails were heavy…

I could go on and on with so many memories when I was a kid. Playing outside. Being outside. But are you getting the underlying theme here? OUTDOORS. OUTSIDE. When we were kids. We were always doing something outside when we could.

We sure burned a lot of energy and calories when we were young! That’s why I was always thin back then (and most all the other kids!). We sure did a lot of running around.

Today’s kids? Not so much. That’s too bad…

Since the advent of computers, the internet, video games, smart phones, and online social media, not many kids play outside anymore like we did when we were kids. I believe it has dramatically changed “who we are”, as several generations of kids have already grown up this way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a techie. I enjoy the many advantages of technology. I just believe that it has affected our young to an extent that has shifted things for the worse (because it goes largely unmanaged or disciplined by parents).

The days of my youth are a bygone era. I wish more parents would get their kids outside and off their screens from time to time… But that’s like going cold-turkey from a serious addiction.