This child, rather than play on a video player or tablet, imagined his own game. The watches on his wrist were master controls for weaving in and out of time. His green pen, attached to a bike glove, was a pretend laser guided-weapon. When I asked him what he was supposed to be, he said, “I’m pretending to be a Nerd. Because they make millions of dollars. Nerds rule.”
My, how the times have changed. In 1984, when the movie “Revenge of the Nerds” was a hit, Microsoft was still developing the graphical interface for MS-DOS on contract with IBM. Kids played outside and free ranged in neighborhoods until called in for suppertime. Calling someone a nerd was a four letter word pejorative. With the likes of Bill Gates and others too many to name, nerds have become associated with six figure incomes. Being labeled as a nerd has had its sentence commuted. Now its 2015 and children are pretending to be nerds.
Play is children’s work. Because of concerns for safety and whereabouts, children today are usually restricted to indoor boundaries and hovered over closely by their guardians. Free-ranging outdoor play is disallowed and frowned upon by society. It’s unlikely, unless living on a farm, that one is going to leave his children outdoors without watching them closely; rarely allowing hours to pass before calling them in for supper. There are boogeymen in our parks. For real. Basically, schools have abandoned recess so more time can be used to prepare for standardized testing. Parents try to solve the exercise equation by enrolling children in organized sports as extra curricular activities. As a result of these tweaks to childhood and playtime, children spend a lot of time in a digital world.
Unstructured time outdoors when children may develop their creative genius, problem solving, innovation skills, failing forward without real harm to themselves is crucial to invention. They benefit from fresh air. They develop physical and intellectual independence. So what’s a child to do? What happens to children who turn inwards for their diversions?
Play is not what it used to be. But maybe the play of today will help children find the nerd within and shape themselves into adults capable of innovation to become the next best nerd. Maybe.