Have Kids Lost the “Huck Finn” Gene?

Have Kids Lost the "Huck Finn" Gene?

Picture this: Jeannie and I have two forts: one is a pile of fallen tree logs in the corner of her backyard. The other is a lean-to-shed next to her parents’ garage. It has no window, but they let us paint it bright yellow with blue trim. There’s also a weedy rock garden (her mom has no time for gardening with seven children and more to come) and though if I were to transport myself to that rock garden today, it would be small–but to Jeannie and me in the lower grades, it was big–and in our imaginations the perfect place to push imaginary evil doers. Hot oil anyone? We might not yet have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finnbut we were swimming in their gene pool as “adventure” and “creating our own worlds” flowed in our blood.


Now where I live in Southern California, my husband and I take frequent walks. We see open space between rows of houses that is lined with trees on either side and filled with piles of leaves and even inviting dead branches in every size you can imagine. But no forts, in a tree or on the ground.

If it rains, the dry creek behind our house fills up with water. The trails we can easily walk to take us up low hills where you can look out over your neighborhood, pick wild flowers and challenge each other to see who can make the rise first.

WHAT DO WE NOT SEE? WHAT DO WE NOT HEAR? Children. Their shouts, their bikes streaming by, their arms loaded with an old quilt or a cardboard box to add to some fort that is gradually taking shape in their minds or behind their houses. Do kids even know what a fort is anymore?


Where are the children and what are they doing? When the few children that live near us come out to throw a ball around or rollerblade, we are thrilled. We hear their voices on the evening breeze and are immediately taken back to our old neighborhood, where in summer the sweetest sounds were children’s voices: freeze tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, baseball in the street, tree climbing, bike riding and of course fort-building.

When we were raising our three children–how joyful. In the first suburban Chicago house there was a shed, and because it was filled with lawn equipment, the area BEHIND THE SHED became the fort for our two daughters, complete with dishes and bricks for a table. Our children knew how to make this work. The second house had a huge side yard with play equipment and my son was out there constantly, always joined by his friend who lived–you guessed it–across the fence.

Then in Iowa, we had a tree fort, built right around one of the huge oaks in our backyard. But once again the space behind the garage often attracted friends like Charlie, who could get to our garage roof from the higher ground back there. Why not? That’s what boys do!


So what keeps kids inside and away from the fun? Maybe weather. Okay. Global warming sucks, and one reason, if you lived in the Midwest this past winter, they didn’t even have enough snow to make outdoor play fun. My son would race out of the house during a good Iowa snowfall–because the street one block away provided a magnificent sledding hill. Yes, there were cars, but they were extremely careful going down that hill in a rollicking Iowa snow storm.

Fear. A younger parent reading this will think about broken arms and head trauma. Okay, I get that. So buy your kid a bike helmet and make him wear it. When I was a kid, my old friend Bing broke his arm falling off the railing of our back porch–the distance could not have been more than a 3 foot drop. But it was an accident, it was the angle of the fall. Why stay inside to prevent that. My son broke his arm sliding in a wading pool. I kid you not. Charlie climbed our roof–he was fine. I fell off a bike with a quick turn on the grass after coming down our steep hill–I was no young chicken but I was fine. You can’t stay inside because of what MIGHT happen.

I say give kids some guidelines and then let them go. They have to feel that life is an adventure. You cannot lock them up with a television or a computer, please.


Almost all (96%) of the 1,001 parents with children aged between four and 14 quizzed for the National Trust thought it was important their children had a connection with nature and thought playing outdoors was important for their development. The research found, on average, children were playing outside for just over four hours a week, compared to 8.2 hours a week when the adults questioned were children. To read more go here. 


Tom Sawyer knew how to attract his friends, even if the attraction involved a little bit of work. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was so damn smart. He wrote: Tom had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. 

Let’s pledge to get our children and grandchildren to covet the outdoors, adventure, and creativity. Sure, some young people are making millions bent over their computers and creating apps. But there is still room for roaming that stimulates the brain in a different way. Take, velcro.

George de Mestral invented his first touch fastener when, in 1941, he went for a walk in the woods and wondered if the burrs that clung to his trousers — and dog — could be turned into something useful. See! What if de Mestral had stayed indoors that day. He patented it in 1955 and subsequently refined and developed its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s. He gave his invention the name Velcro, creating it from the French word velours or velvet and crochet or hook. The rest is history, as they say.


Parents reading this might claim that there children get enough of the outdoors through sports. Yes and no Sports today are usually organized with adults there. Sports today are not the backyard lot when you created your own rules and learned how to WORK THINGS OUT with the kids down the block. That’s SO important. Children need to grow up slowly, yes, but as they do, day to day they learn skills that they will never lose. Jeannie and I had to negotiate when selecting the color of our fort or even deciding it would be in HER backyard. Getting out of the house and away from the eyes and ears of parents is part of growing up. STILL WORRIED? Well today, someone in the group that is roaming the hills or building that fort will have a cell phone, connection to Mom or Dad. So let them go out into the world. And don’t call or text them. Give them a deadline and hope that they wander into the world of imagination without an app or a screen to guide them.

Thanks to: DiviantArt

Do Children Have to Be Resilient Part 2

Do Children Have to Be Resilient Part 2

Last week’s post discussed the theory that when children are asked to be resilient, they are asked to just get along. In such cases, children are not given the platform to THRIVE. But sometimes, even when parents and grandparents are doing everything they can to offer love, security, belonging, and stimulation–life intrudes, life that adults can’t control or maybe shouldn’t control. Because the term “helicopter parents”, that has come into the lexicon since I was parented and since I raised my children has many arguments against it. If parents intervene too often for their children, how will those children learn to live in the world?

Children’s Fears by Age Group

No one can live in a bubble and be normal. Children must learn to adjust to the fears they are certain to have, says Dr. Tamar E. Chansky,PhD, who identifies fears for certain ages. Infants and toddlers are afraid of loud noises, strangers, and separation. In the preschool years fears include the dark, monsters and ghosts, dogs and other animals. Once children enter school, fears might include snakes and spiders, storms and other natural disasters, being home alone, a cross teacher, frightening news or TV shows, fear of failure or rejection and illness, injury, doctors, immunizations and death.

Play Is Mini Groundwork for the Future

But as kids we do learn to combat some of our fears. Isn’t that why we ran around the neighborhood pretending that a group of kids from the other block was chasing us or we created games that pitched one group, cops, against another, robbers? Creating and relieving tension seems to be part of a child’s play-world: hide and seek, frozen tag, dodge ball–any game where for minutes or more one child is set apart from the herd and has to be strong or smart, show his or her stuff. Stand alone. My friend Jean and I dealt with fears by creating fantasy. We pretended the rock garden in her yard was really boiling oil and on any given day we pushed imaginary monsters and enemies into that scalding pit. And then went home for lunch.

Memories Stick

I remember vividly Bing Gallagher falling down our steps and breaking his arm, a compound fracture, not pleasant to see and his howls hard to forget. And there was Shep, a dog in the neighborhood that terrified me when I rode my bike by his fence. Lucky for me, he never got out, but the old woman who owned him shouted at me when I rang her doorbell, asking to play with her grandson. Another neighbor came out regularly to yell at me and Jean if we disturbed the gravel in her driveway. Small stuff, I know. But when you’re a kid, stuff sticks. We gave those adults a wide berth for years. No wonder children in households prone to yelling, violence and drunken behaviors have trouble sleeping, eating, determining who to trust. And of course they will  have a much harder time thriving. Because how much can we really ask of a child when we state: “He’ll be okay. Children are resilient.”

Owning Your Past  

My friend, Sara, recently shared on Facebook the following–which certainly applies here and which will stay with me for a long time. The other lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change what you don’t own – meaning, if you blame others – people or circumstances – for your situation, you can’t change it because you’re saying it’s not within your control. Once I learned that, life really changed for the better. I love this. I think it speaks for all of us who have carried some doubts, fears, hurts, angers into our adulthood. Sara did. And yet she realized that in order to THRIVE, rather than just get along, she had to stop blaming something or someone in her past. She realized that NOW she could change her life, if she owned everything about it and accepted it, because once she owned it, her past, her very life was under her control. Sara discovered that she was the source of her decisions–and wow she’s done great things. I so admire that.

Giving and Getting Love and Trust 

We all want those we love, our children and grandchildren, to thrive. Often we struggle to make sure that they don’t have to “be resilient” in the face of life events that happen to us: death, divorce, job loss, chronic illness, death. But when those events rip into the fabric of our lives, hopefully we have given those we love a firm foundation. Because any human who has in their past the experience of loving and being loved, of trusting and be able to trust a parent or relative, or maybe a teacher or counselor–that human can overcome and like Sara, own their life and therefore control it.

Moving into the Future

So what’s the plan? How can we begin this very moment to insure that the people we love, or the children and grandchildren who rely on us, are going to thrive and not just get along? We can: be with them totally, unencumbered by distraction, giving them our whole attention; we can be “real” for them, encouraging imagination (if it’s a child) or listening to their problems at work or in their relationships (if this person is an adult.) We need to BE IN THE MOMENT for that loved one as often as possible.

Life Slips Away

Because some day, and it has already happened to me, you might pick up a tattered copy of GOODNIGHT MOON, or hear the lullaby that you sang to your child, and just wonder–when was the last time I read this to my son, sang this to my daughter; or when was the last time I pushed my son in his stroller or walked my daughter into school. BECAUSE WE DON’T remember!  One day that event occurs and then–it stops, the book goes on a shelf, the lullaby is no longer sung, the stroller languishes in the garage, the child doesn’t want you to walk her anywhere.

It’s life. It’s change. But when you’re older, and your children are pushing strollers or reading that book, singing that song–you’ll know you DONE GOOD. They are thriving, your grandchildren are thriving, because of your attention, your love and your belief that the burden of life should not be a child’s, until they are old enough and strong enough to carry it. Let’s not ask them to be resilient, if we can carry the load.

Thanks to Google Images