Every weekend I take my daughter to a class at one of the local “youth facilities.” The first time we pulled up to this newly-built, newly-landscaped building, we were met with a sign that read:
“We request that you please walk around the plants and stay on the sidewalks. Thank you!”
So, naturally, my daughter asked me about this sign. Why, she wondered, would somebody build a place for kids to go where they were supposed to stay on the sidewalks? And thus, the birth of my new-albeit sarcastic-slogan: “Because nature isn’t good enough!”
Sidewalks are just so much smoother than grass. On a sidewalk a child is much less likely to be inspired to run and jump, and therefore much less likely to fall down. Grass is terrible that way-it really makes a kid want to get down and roll around. And the problem with dirt, of course, is that it might get your kid’s clothes dirty.
Never mind the natural affinity children seem to have with grass and dirt. We have finally come to our senses and realized that nature is just not good enough. Consider lunch. Brightly colored packages containing individually plastic-wrapped portions of hydrogenated fruit-like food product are infinitely more convenient than those silly old fruits. And fun! They are so fun! It’s even better when the fruit-like food product can double as a form of entertainment. Look: it’s a Batman mask! It’s a paper airplane!
Kids’ lunches demonstrate some of the best human ingenuity. We now have squeezable yogurt in colorful and convenient plastic (fun!). We have processed meat products in friendly shapes that remind our children of their favorite cartoon characters. The ingredients lists on these lunch items require a magnifying glass and a scientific dictionary, so they must have all sorts of important nutrients for our kids.
Back in the olden days, we children drank water from the water fountain with lunch. Today’s children have “nutrient enhanced water” and “vitamin water.” The New Water is better in many ways: it comes in convenient and (of course) brightly colored plastic containers. It makes us parents feel like we are doing something health-inducing and virtuous (in spite of the addition of high-fructose corn syrup). It is profitable. The Old Water, which came out of the old water fountains, did nothing to improve the economy.
As any parent knows, getting your child to eat requires massive amounts of creativity, talent, and purchasing power. Because nature isn’t good enough!
Speaking of feats of human intelligence, did you know that P.E. wasn’t always a part of elementary school? Physical education is defined as “instruction in the development and care of the body ranging from simple calisthenics exercises to a course of study providing training in hygiene, gymnastics, and the performance and management of athletic games (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).”
It simply is not enough for children to run around and play. In fact, some studies indicate that children in free play settings will not engage in physical activity vigorous enough to produce physical benefits or enhance health, thus supporting the need for physical education.
There just isn’t time for free play, anyway. It is absolutely crucial for each kindergartener to be on track for college preparedness, and this means that any activity must serve multiple purposes: exercise combines well with rote memorization of multiplication facts, and “games” at school offer a veritable cornucopia of self-esteem building, learning, and “fun.”
P.E. has the added benefit of occurring within a specified time frame, on a relatively smooth surface, with adult supervision. Quaint recollections of times when “found objects” in nature could represent adequate sports equipment have, thankfully, been replaced by such technological evolutions as the Nintendo Wii. My mom played stickball, but that’s so old-school. It’s just as Nintendo says:
“This is what video games should be: fun for everyone. Wii Sports offers five distinct sports experiences, each using the Wii Remote controller to provide a natural, intuitive and realistic feel. To play a Wii Sports game, all you need to do is pick up a controller and get ready for the pitch, serve or that right hook. Play Tennis, Baseball, Golf, Bowling and Boxing in the comfort of one’s living room. No ball boys scurrying about, no oil from the alleys to get players dirty and no rain to keep anyone from a day at the court, park or course.”
Nature definitely cannot do that.