To Wonder and to Wander

Katie Cawood

Where did all the bikes go?

Back in the '90s, the best way to tell where all the neighbor children were currently playing was to look for the house with the pile of bikes in the front lawn. In the backyard, you might find six or seven kids jumping on a trampoline or up to their elbows in mud. Nothing was expected from us, and we had nowhere important to be. Our curfew? Car headlights: if it was dark enough for the passing cars to turn their lights on, it was time to ride home.

To Wonder and Wander: But where did all the bikes go?

In 2019, the Vincennes streets are sparse in the summertime. It’s not just that the kids are inside playing on their iPads and PlayStations. Parents also feel pressured to provide children with plenty of enriching activities to make sure they’re entertained— museum trips, week-long summer camps, scheduled play dates, trips to the movies, and the like. And of course, all the sports, sports, sports!

When do they get unstructured play? Is there time for that?

My experience in Early Childhood Education has taught me that boredom fosters creativity. Children should be offered ample amounts of time to play without adult intrusion, allowing them to pretend, explore, and discover new things. Through play, children learn science, social skills, problem solving, math, language skills, and so much more. It might not seem like they’re learning when they’re climbing trees or jumping in puddles, but the life lessons they learn while playing outside are incredibly valuable.

Play is truly the work of childhood.

Scandinavian author and play advocate Linda Akeson McGurk compared her upbringing in Sweden to her daughters’ in small town Indiana, noting that the parks are empty on any day the weather is less than ideal. In her book, "There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather," she asks, “What if children who act out were allowed to get out?”

Here in the U.S., recess times are getting shorter and shorter, and sensory issues in young children are rapidly rising. Could the two be related? If children were given more time to run, jump, and climb, maybe they would be less fidgety in the classroom. Our kids are itching to play, and that’s exactly what they need.

Join me in giving your kids an old-fashioned summer. Let them get bored. Let them play outside until the cars’ headlights are on. Let them run barefoot through the grass and splash in the mud without a hint of structure or a plan.

Tell them it’s the latest YouTube challenge.

Katie Cawood's column appears every other week. She can be reached at

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