How Boomers Played Between the Holidays

Christmas has passed and the year is rapidly progressing to its inevitable end. Throughout the country, girls and boys are home for the holidays, on leave from school until after the first of the New Year. How are kids filling this time between the holidays these days? According to multiple sources, the bulk of their time is spent on screen. Phones, tablets, computers and video gaming on TVs have captured our youth, in many cases, to the exclusion of most other things, including outdoor play.

Things could not have been more different for boomers. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, the days between Christmas and New Year’s were all about outdoor play. Sleds, ice skates and hockey sticks, as well as gloves, hats, boots and scarves, were common Christmas gifts. The week between was a good proving ground for the equipment.

A typical day for Mister B and his siblings could start as early as 7:00 am, roughly the same time the Boomer kids got up for school. After feeding themselves cereal and milk (and possibly a slice of fruitcake or a Christmas cookie or two in Mr. Boomer’s case), the Boomer kids were out the door and calling on neighborhood kids, who were already assembling to decide what was first on the day’s to do list.

Very often, sledding started the day. More often than not, there was plenty of snow on the ground. It was one activity that kids of every age, girls and boys, could do at the same time, in the same general vicinity of each other. A walk to a nearby school that had a suitable incline situated alongside, which provided a ready-to-sled opportunity, though it was tame in its angle. The city had built a sledding hill in a neighborhood park, but the experience was more structured; the park teen-hires maintained order as best they could, keeping kids in line for their turn down the slope. Brother Boomer showed Mister B the correct timing to bypass the park workers, and the line, and sneak off to sled the back side of the hill. It was forbidden because of its sharp angle and abundance of trees. That was exactly why kids wanted to sled it; the speeds were fast and steering was essential to prevent an accident. There were a few casualties along the way, with sleds ramming into trees, acquiring cracked wood and bent runners, while the occupants endured everything from a few bumps to bloody lips. If the workers caught the kids going down the backside, they would not be allowed back up the hill for another run, even on the “legal” side.

After a few hours, kids were cold and ready for some quick nourishment. Mister Boomer does not recall a time when he and his siblings ever stopped for an actual lunch. Rather, it was more like a pit stop. Mister B and his siblings would return home with their sleds through the back door of the house, where they could bring the sleds to the basement. Back up the stairs to the landing, they could remove coats and boots, as well as wet socks and wet gloves. It was the age before polyester outerwear, so boomer kids dressed in layers of mostly cotton and wool.

A quick jaunt into the kitchen was intended to warm them up a little. While they were there, they could grab a few Christmas cookies and maybe a slice of lunch meat; Mister Boomer’s parents always had ham, bologna and olive loaf, and sometimes salami, available. Snack in hand, Mister B and his siblings would get fresh socks and gloves, and repeat the process of dressing for the afternoon’s outdoor happenings. Two possible activities would be next: either ice skating for all, or a split between the girls and boys, so the girls could make a snowman while the boys built snow forts and had snowball fights.

There were no indoor ice rinks in Mister B’s area. All available skating ice was formed naturally in depressions in the landscape of a nearby park. There were multiple spots of varying sizes available to kids, so smaller “rinks” the size of a kiddie pool were often taken by kids learning how to skate. Mister B and his siblings had started that way, on skates with double blades, then “graduating” to full adult, single-blade ice skates through a Christmas gift package a couple of years later.

Sometimes, Mister B and his brother would bring their hockey sticks and play with neighborhood kids on the largest patch of ice. Goals were formed out of lines of mounded snow, but skating around and taking the puck from each other seemed to be the biggest attraction. Kids would stay until the setting sun took enough light away to see what was going on.

In every instance, boomer kids were outside for hours at a time, completely unsupervised by adults (except the city-controlled sledding hill). Kids might return home with a few bumps and bruises, broken glasses or a little blood here and there, but nothing that a mother’s kiss and a little mercurochrome couldn’t fix.

How about you, boomers? How did you play in the week between Christmas and New Year’s?

Boomers Enjoyed Unstructured Summer Play

If there is one thing Mister Boomer misses terribly from his early boomer days, it is having a summer off from school. As an adult, responsibilities to family and work take precedent, so time in the summer (or lack thereof) becomes more precious as he ages. Decades later, as he ponders those wonderful summer days, he realizes what he misses is not only the time out of the classroom, but the sheer freedom of it all. A week away from the work desk cannot hold a candle to two-plus months of unstructured play.

Once the last school bell had rung, children were free from the commands of teachers. Parents not only allowed this freedom, but encouraged it. In fact, most boomers will tell you their parents did not know what their kids did during the day. As long as they were home for dinner, parents did not want to know about their children’s summer activities unless they came home bleeding, or escorted by a police officer.

We were free to keep ourselves busy. Sometimes that meant inventing games, other times it was exploring, while others, still, it meant a time to be mischievous. The point was, children were left to their own devices to work things out. In Mister Boomer’s case, the neighborhood group included kids from age 7 to 14. Though the older kids often took the lead in deciding what to do, the entire group was able to voice their opinions or offer suggestions. In this group dynamic, it was not unusual for strange games or competitions to appear, with rules being concocted on the fly. It also meant that on occasion, there might be some blood, usually because of some foolhardy attempt at one thing or another, more than fighting.

Virtually every child development study these days points to a lessening in the amount of unstructured play time compared to that of our boomer days. Consequently, the debate over structured play versus unstructured play has been going on for decades since the boomer generation. Every boomer grandparent is aware of the often grueling schedule their grandchildren keep during the summer, being ushered from one practice to another, one structured activity to another. Mister Boomer makes no claims to the authoritative reasoning behind such discussions, other than the fact he grew up as a boomer.

In 2016, Michael Patte, professor of teaching and learning and a child life specialist, released a white paper called, From Pick Up Games to Play Dates –- The Decline of Child-Initiated, Unstructured Play and the Rise of Backseat Children. The good professor summarizes the reasons for the decline in unstructured play as:

• Safety concerns
• Increased time spent at school
• Desire by parents for childhood to be a time of resume building for college
• Increase of structured play activities

He goes on to say that unstructured play is key to proper balance in childhood development. Unstructured play assists in:

• Social competency
• Self-discipline
• Aggression control
• Problem solving
• Conflict resolution

Surely we boomers were not conscious of such teaching moments, but Mister B feels that when you think back, you will recall times when that is exactly what was occurring in the fields, playgrounds and streets of our youth during summer vacations.

Boomers in the 1960s and ’70s advocated for more freedom of all types for everyone. Self-expression was a big part of that freedom. Could that desire have been rooted in the way we were allowed to spend our summer vacations — in total and complete unstructured play?

Do you think about unstructured play these days, and the freedom you had as a kid during summer months, boomers?