If you ever passed by my local elementary school at lunchtime, you'd find a large group of children huddled beneath the line of bushes that ring the makeshift football field. Watch them for a moment or two and you’ll realize that there’s an organized rhythm to their play. They scurry from bush to bush like field mice, carrying clumps of mud pie, clusters of acorns, and piles of leaves. Soon you’ll realize that each individual bush has been transformed into a home or business and that each child has a job or specific responsibility
Welcome to Bushville, a complete town with a mayor, workers, stores, homes, and, of course, a cafe aptly named Acorn Cafe (the hottest selling item on the menu is the acorn taco). But the best part of Bushville? It was created by a group of 10-year-old girls.
They are in 5th grade, these girls. Typical tweens: rushing head first towards a pre-ordained code of maturity, idolizing questionable pop stars and dressing in sometimes-questionable fashions. They’ve perfected a biting blend of sassy indifference, and lest you forget, parents are no longer allowed to walk within 15 feet of them as they approach the school in the morning. (Don’t even dare to try to sneak in a kiss.)
And yet, at 11:30 each day, they race out of the school building and head to their bushes, and for the next 30 minutes, these girls are back in the business of being 10 year old children.
There are no social pretenses in Bushville. No one is judging their pretend play, no one is questioning their childish game. There are no store bought items, no need to worry about who has what. And if you ask me, I bet it’s a relief.
Nowadays, the pressures are enormous. I see it first hand with my daughter. It matters how you dress, what you have, how you act. It matters how many teams you make (one travel soccer team is no longer enough). It matters what your test score was, or who is in the highest reading level, or if you’ve made it into advanced math. These children are bombarded from all sides – and ultimately I know, as a parent, I am partly to blame. I don’t want my daughter to be socially awkward, so I buy fashionable clothes, even if I question, at times, the styles. I succumb to the “need” to offer my children endless extra curricular activities, often spending my afternoons shuttling one child to dance, another to gymnastics, a third to tennis. I try to believe a B is a good grade, but yet still tell her I expect an A.
But then when my ten year old asks, “Am I too old to play with Barbies,” I know something is wrong. I flash back to my own childhood, and never did I question the long afternoons I spent playing with Barbie, or family with my dolls, or simply pretending the day away – and I know it’s time to pull back and allow her to be the young child that she is.
Which is why I enjoy ambling past the school at recess. No unacceptable social mores. No electronics or other store bought electronics. No adult telling these kids what to do or how to play. Their hands are muddy, their knees are dirty and they use only the objects they can find around the playground and their wonderfully innocent 10-year-old imaginations. For 30 minutes every day, they get to be the little kids they really are. Relaxed, happy, and creative.
They will be expected to grow up soon enough. For now, let’s let our kids enough their childhood.
Thank you, Bushville.
Written by Jenny Tananbaum.