I have an honorary doctorate in outdoor play

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Many experts agree that it's good for kids to play outside. It improves their vision, teaches social skills, and increases their ability to focus. It also reduces their stress and raises their Vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight. There is now an organization that holds outdoor classes, where kids learn through play. 

It's called Tinkergarten.

Since its founding in 2015, Tinkergarten has spread to every state in the union. It teaches kids from 18 months to 8 years old such skills as making mud pies, tree-climbing, and hide-and-seek. The teachers are called leaders. They coach the parents, who accompany their kids, on how to bury people in the sand or build a snow house. I haven't applied to be a leader yet, but I believe I have the skill set to teach kids how to play outside. 

For example, I have 12 years' experience in tree-climbing, including an advanced degree in shinnying. This involved scaling a smooth trunk until I could grab the first branch. I was also adept at pushing people out of trees if they were sitting on my branch. 

As for mud play, I completed several excavations to China. I never met face-to-face with the Chinese but could hear their voices. I was also skilled at filling in these holes, after parents discovered we had destroyed their backyard.

I was an expert in hide-and-seek and all manner of outdoor play. These were usually nighttime activities and included kick-the-can and a game we simply called "Chase." I also played Red Rover at the semi-pro level and was always up for a game of tag. 

Many of these activities were mandatory, as my parents didn't want us anywhere near the house. These games also required the wearing of "play clothes," lest we rip our school pants — again. We would recruit participants for these games by standing outside their houses and yelling their names until they came out. 

In addition to these classics, we also engaged in pick-up games of baseball, football and basketball, depending on the season. We didn't play these games in the park but in the safety of the street. The football field extended from sewer-to-sewer. Three completed passes in a row were needed for a first down. 

Basketball was played in the alley. We shot at hoops mounted on garage roofs. Nets were optional. Garage doors took a beating from the air balls we hoisted. What I remember most was how numb my fingers would get and how the ball didn't have much bounce in February.

Other winter sports included snowball fights and the building of snow forts. We also skitched down snowy streets by holding onto a car's rear bumper. Helmets were not required. Helmets were also not needed for bike riding, which was a go-to activity throughout the year. Our ultimate test was surviving "Dead Man's Hill" in Thatcher Woods. 

Finally, there were the games we'd play for just one day, centered on a refrigerator box or an especially deep puddle. We became experts at playing outside. We thus avoided obesity and myopia, although I'm pretty sure we all had attention deficit disorder. 

So I believe Tinkergarten is on the right track, re-introducing kids to these skills. If we get a franchise in Forest Park, I'd be glad to submit my resume. Did I mention my PhD in sandcastles?

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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