—Or the snow angels? I would even settle for a snow fort. —Or brothers and sisters chasing each other with snowballs.
Kansas has been blanketed with abundant snow this winter. But unlike other winters, it lays as a pristine white blanket until warm weather melts it away. Not only were there very few children in our snowy yards this winter, the smooth drifts, unbroken but for a mailman’s footprints and an occasional rabbit track give evidence that very few children ever went outside to play in the snow.
Where are they?
It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to solve the puzzle of the missing snowmen and our missing children. Businesses report record sales of video game consoles and electronic toys. Research by the Pew study on the internet as well as "Generation M3" show our children are spending most of their waking moments inside with electronics.
While our outdoor neighborhoods are silent except for birds at the birdfeeders, our children are indoors beeping away with the hottest electronic games.
Snow-covered yards are but one measure of the drop-off in outdoor activity. Hunting, hiking, and even the spontaneous vacant-lot ball games are rapidly dwindling. The missing tracks of our children are just not as evident without the snow.
While researchers have been investigating the virtual worlds and fake second lives our students are playing, they have not counted up the real world experiences our children are now missing.
There are a lot of natural lessons that are not being learned in empty sandboxes, ballfields and parks.
There is a lot of "commonsense" that is simply not being sensed.
As a biology teacher, I can demonstrate how hot and cold are two distinct senses because students should remember playing in the snow too long. When they ran room temperature tap water over their cold hands, it felt warm. But if they haven’t done this, I get "Huh?"
Then there are the pleural membranes allowing the lungs to slide painlessly, until the membranes dry out when you run and play and inhale dry air and exhale a moist breathe that you can see. But they haven’t, and I get "Huh?"
There are thousands of little lessons a child gets from playing with real things both indoors and outdoors: discovering bugs, feeling and smelling soil, learning what to risk and what to respect. —Tinkering with cars and taking apart clocks. —Trying to make things work. And if you don’t fix it right, it doesn’t work. These are the important lessons of how the world works. We learn that there are real consequences when you don’t understand. And when you do understand, you gain a sense of control over that part of the real world.
But now, we are letting our children avoid many of those experiences. They stay inside and play artificial games in artificial worlds where "wishing makes it so."
Our children are looking more like snowmen as obesity rates climb. For the first time in history, American life expectancy is going down. We remove the school vending machines but then sit them in front of more computers at school and play stations at home.
When the next snow falls on Kansas, if we leave our kids’ coats in the closet and let them hibernate inside electronic caves once again, we will be losing a lot more than a few snowmen.