Back in May Lindsey and I happened to find ourselves killing time before a movie in some suburban area of Las Vegas. We weren’t sure where to go to since neither of us live there, but when we saw a bit of green with a playground and a baseball diamond, we figured we could sit on that grass quite happily for as long as we needed. We ended up strolling past a skate park. An acre of concrete molded into ramps, half-pipes, and pools, with hand rails sprouting here and there from the hard cement.
Fifteen kids, aged ten to twenty maneuvered though the obstacles. Some were clearly experienced: they gave the sense of a deep understanding of the dynamics created by that shaped concrete, combining graceful forays down curves with abrupt stops on ledges, where they’d balance on wheel posts, as frozen as the cement, for a split second. Others were just beginning. Three boys on bikes almost too big for them navigated a half pipe, braving the steepest most dreadful moment when they had to first drop in. One timid boy did the entire half-pipe straddling the bar of his bike, foregoing pedals for the security of keeping his heels on the pavement. We smiled while watching these same three boys figure out how to get out of the half-pipe too. “You have to go fast!” one braver boy encouraged the timid one.
There was no green grass, no dirt, no sticks or leaves, no living thing but the boys on their bikes. Here, in this environment as barren as any indoor space, these kids were learning courage, creativity, and confidence. They practiced social skills, encouraged each other, looked out for each other, challenged each other. They learned to focus on the task at hand, and to get up and try again when they fell down; to push themselves (“you have to go fast!“) in order to accomplish. They learned balance, body-eye coordination, and how to assess outcomes quickly, as conditions changed. And they burned off lunch and that after-school snack to boot.
We were stymied. Thrown off our game. These kids were outside, but they weren’t in nature. And yet what we saw seemed perfectly good and healthy. And we got to thinking, was just plain being outside, away from electric plug-ins, good enough? (more…)