Where Have All the Children Gone?


Sarah Shaffer

School’s out. Where have all the children gone? June used to be a time when the sound of children laughing and playing echoed across neighborhood lawns. Suddenly, it seems to have gotten strangely quiet. Rachael Carson’s Silent Springalerted us to the dangers of a world without birdsong. I worry that there there may be equal cause for alarm in a “silent summer” of backyards devoid of children’s voices. Parents used to have to shoo their kids outdoors to play. Now we hardly know that they are home. And that is not necessarily a good thing.


The reward systems designed into our electronic devices are such a child does not need to be encouraged to pick one up. Our kids use cellphones to keep track of their friends. They can be sitting all alone in their rooms while engaged in multiplayer digital games with friends across town. And some of that is just fine. Social connections of all sorts are important to a child’s development. When school is in session, they see their buddies face-to-face. It’s only natural that they want to find a way to keep these bonds strong during the summer months. My main problem with connections that are filtered through screens is that these happen almost exclusively when a child is indoors. Children need to be outside. We all do. The scientific results are in. Time spent among green and growing things is essential to our emotional and physical health.


What’s a busy family with working parents to do? We increasingly rely on professionally run programs to provide the kinds of summer freedom that happened more spontaneously when a smaller percentage of us were employed fulltime. Remember that vacation days should include fun, laughter, relaxed time with old friends, an opportunity to make new ones, and guaranteed hours under trees and in parks and playgrounds. Whether your child wants to focus on further developing an existing talent—dance, art, science, etc.—or simply insists on going to the camp where his or her friends are enrolled, remember that the sun-filled hours of summer are the best chance to give your kids back what societal changes have stolen from them. Let’s make sure that the closing of the school doors continues to mean the opening of portals into the natural world. Rachael Carson was passionate about keeping birdsong in our lives. I’m equally committed to making sure our summers will always be filled with the sounds of children happily laughing with each other. Not even the magical notes of a Hermit Thrush can fill my heart as much as hearing a child’s excited call, “Come see what I have found!”


Sarah Shaffer, award-winning educator, has been offering unique outdoor nature and science programs for children, parents, and teachers for over twenty-five years. More information about Sarah’s Science can be found at www.sarahscience.com