This morning sitting at the breakfast table, we watched with surprise as a sleek and very bold red fox trotted along our fence line, past the kitchen window and up the hill towards the gate. Two fluffy designer dogs were despatched outdoors to try and catch the wily intruder ~ like that was ever going to happen. Nonetheless and almost self-combusting with excitement, they flew up the garden and disappeared behind our stand of pine trees in hot pursuit of Foxy Loxy. Three young children followed closely behind, barefoot in PJ’s, toast still in their mouths. From that moment the children spent the day investigating all things Vulpine. It has been a delight watching their creativity and imaginative play and has again reminded me that if a scene is set for a child (whether spontaneous or planned) and they have a few props to hand, they can easily (and willingly) entertain themselves for hours.
First they went hunting for more evidence of Franky (yes, that was the name he was given). They found a tooth and some poo. I will spare you a photograph of these. My daughter intends to string the tooth around her neck. They then returned indoors and after googling fox poo, they determined (apparently from the size and scent) that Franky is actually Francine. You didn’t know that male and female fox poo is different did you? No, nor did I. This is because it fell, until today, into the category of entirely useless information. What fascinated me is how the kids used technology to assist, inform and ENHANCE their unstructured play outside.
They returned outdoors to build a den for the fox in anticipation of return visits. They worked hard at this all day. They dug up soil, collected wood, feathers and twigs. They even cooked a steak as a lure for Francine. They made her a bed of soft green grass to snuggle up in. One child chose to make an iPad video of their experiences. Another returned inside momentarily to write down her observations using a laptop. They seamlessly combined their outdoor time with indoor moments, all the time enhancing it with the use of technology. The last child took endless photos of the den, the tools and the found materials they used to construct it. I’m sure they are now on an Instagram feed somewhere.
After dinner, we searched for and compiled a list of all the movies, books and songs we could think of that featured foxes. They are listed below. The kids then collapsed into bed full of plans to head outdoors tomorrow to build on their experience. I am sure technology will again play a big part in this. And this is OK because imagination will still be the champion of the day.
As adults, it is natural to worry about how much screen time our children are exposed to. There is much evidence on the negative effects of its overuse. We find it unsettling because it formed such a minuscule part of our own childhoods. However technology and the digital world will not go away, no matter whether we as adults use, dislike, understand, resist or embrace it. It is an integral part of the current landscape of childhood just like a Malvern Star bicycle was to mine. This is how our children communicate, express and identify themselves. We must be a part of it.
Trying to extricate or dissuade our children from using technology by citing our own childhood experiences as an example of living a more enriched life is unhelpful to say the least and at worst could lead to an emotional disconnect between parent and child. Sure, we need to set boundaries for its use, but we fail our children if we are not prepared to accept their world ~ their reality. As mentioned above, by 2020 there will be 7 times more connected devices than there are people on the planet and as yet we don’t even know what form some of these devices will take. So rather than moan about or resist this, I suggest adults must change their thinking on how to approach technology + children. Our kids will be the ones responsible for managing this new world so we need to help guide them effectively through its development and their ongoing use of it. How can we do this without first understanding it ourselves?
Chastising them for doing what is quickly becoming fundamentally innate to them is counterintuitive. We must embrace technology; do everything we can to understand it and use it alongside our children. Only then can we use it as a handy tool to encourage a healthy connection with their real world. Further, I’m of the belief that only by doing this can I act as an informed mediator and have them understand the value of readily switching off. Then, together, my kids and I can enjoy their ride through childhood, both with and without a screen.
Although if my witnessing of today’s events is anything to go by, kids are perfectly capable of self-regulation given the opportunity, a spark of imagination and a sleek red fox.
If you don’t have a fox to hand, why not have your kids try some of these activities?
- Choose a colour. Suggest to your child they need to find 5 things outside that are of that colour. Ask them to use their devices to find further images of the chosen colour. Print them out and create a collage using their printed and real objects. Get them to google how the colour is spoken in 5 languages. Now head to the kitchen and a devise a meal using ingredients primarily of that colour.
- Hunt for a dragon. Ahead of time, using a few props such as pebbles or a bit of glitter sprinkled around the garden, tell them you’ve a feeling a dragon is nearby. Encourage them to go looking for this mythical creature. Ask them to take photos of any evidence they come across. Get them to draw the dragon of their imaginations. Ask them what they think dragons eat. If this is something that could, just could be in your fridge, together make it for dinner.
- Together, go for a walk and find 5 pebbles of varying shapes and sizes. Come back home and decorate them. Google how pebbles are formed. Give each one a name. Make a bed for them using an old egg carton.
- Search for feathers of varying colours. Come home and make a collage or a mini headdress. Using google, try and discover which birds they might belong to. On a piece of paper, draw as exactly as you can the feathers you see before you. If you know which birds the feather belong to, search for a recording of the sounds they make.
Our go-to list of all things Vulpine:
The Fox and the Child (such a beautiful film)
Robin Hood (Disney animated version)
Swiper no Swiping! (Dora the Explorer)
The adventures of Pinocchio (a fox and a cat try to dupe Pinocchio)
Franky Furbo (by William Wharton. A brilliant book for adults)
And for your listening pleasure, Jimmi Hendrix Foxy Lady
As always we’d love your views and comments…
Until next time…
* PWC 2014 CEO Trend report
**Image found on the great little website sheknows.com.au