COLUMN: A bit of freedom to learn necessary

It’s the middle of summer. Weather is warm. Skies are fair. And there are no children playing anywhere.

Where have all the children gone?

It’s the middle of summer. Weather is warm. Skies are fair. And there are no children playing anywhere.

I rode my bike past a baseball diamond the other day. Nothing.

Looked down a few streets.

No road hockey, no games of catch. No lemonade stands.

No shrieks of delight from a water balloon fight.

I even passed a playground, a kid’s paradise.

One lone child swinging on a swing with mom watching closely, as if some frightful predator was about to swoop down from the sky, scoop the kid up and devour it.

It’s like a weird Hollywood movie.

Has society become so threatening over the past three decades that we simply can’t let children out of our sight?

When I was a kid, my friends and I were out there. All the adults on our street knew who we were because they’d see us flopping over their fences playing hide-and-seek. As a kid in Calgary, 20 or so of the neighbourhood kids would congregate in our cul-de-sac virtually every night and play kick-the-can until the sun went down, which in Calgary in the summer was about 10:30 p.m.

Our parents loved it as much as we did. I was 10.

On those endless summer days, some of us would ride our bikes all over. Down to Fish Creek Park – about 10 kilometres away – to find a nice waterhole to cool off in. One day, a friend and I decided to be adventurous. We rode our bikes down to the Calgary Stampede grounds on a day that just happened to coincide with a massive gathering of Hells Angels in the downtown area. Not knowing any better, we rode our bicycles right through the lot of them then called on my dad in his office in hopes he would buy us lunch. He did, though he was surprised to see us so far from home.

We didn’t wear helmets, no reflective clothing. We didn’t even really know where we were going. It was fun. It was adventure. It was being a kid and learning about how the world works, the good and the bad.

As a younger kid in Ottawa, my brother and our friend James would gather our fishing gear every morning and walk down to the canal – about a half hour down Bank Street – and fish all day long.

We didn’t check in until we got home for supper.

One day, during the Ottawa Exhibition, some bigger kids came around and pushed us around a bit. I was terrified. They kicked our worms into the water, threatened to steal our fishing poles, and stole our lunches.

Though shaken, we learned a great deal from it. We didn’t go back until the ex was gone, but we returned to our favourite pastime of fishing for perch or catfish. We had lots of situations when we were a little scared. Maybe we’d ventured too far from home, or ran into people we would rather not have. There was more than one time we did something really stupid that got us into trouble.

But every day was different.

It would start by going from friend’s house to friend’s house, seeing who was around and who wanted to do what. It almost always ended in great exploration, or a lesson learned, or a scolding from mom or dad.

But we were alive. We were learning. We couldn’t wait to go and do something, anything. We wanted to taste and touch and smell as much as we could before school started again.

Today, kids have to wear helmets when riding a bike. They have planned schedules tighter than a snare drum. They can only skateboard in designated areas. They are constantly chauffeured around.

Mom or dad are never far away.

Everything always seems to be indoors. Controlled. Planned. Safe. Sanitized.

What, I wonder, are they ever going to learn from that?