There isn't enough for the kids to do in Meaford.
It is a sentiment I have heard expressed often in the years since I moved to this fine community, and it is one that I have never really understood.
Recently though I have come to realize that perhaps it isn't that there is a lack of activities for our youth in this town, it is more a yearning for what is on the other side of the fence in larger communities.
Kids are really just short versions of us grown ups, and like us, they often want what they don't have, and it can be easy to forget, or take for granted what is right in front of us.
What is interesting is that it has become apparent to me that the kids in those larger communities also have a yearning. While they may have a cornucopia of community centres, shopping malls, sporting opportunities and a host of other possibilities, what they may lack is a freedom that can only be found in a small town.
Freedom to explore I think, is one of the biggest opportunities small towns like Meaford have to offer for children. A safe community without the stresses of massive numbers of vehicles clogging the streets means that parents don't need to worry as much if the kids head out to discover their community.
Remember when as kids we used to leave home in the morning and not return home until the street lights came on? Remember the echo of “Car!” and “Game on!” bouncing between homes on a quiet street as kids played road hockey? Those are things that can still take place in a small town, but are perhaps more difficult in a larger centre where safe, quiet streets seem to have become more difficult to find.
My own children think that there is plenty to do in Meaford. They live in a city of more than 150,000 people, and they are surrounded by endless opportunities for fun and entertainment. But when they arrive in Meaford every other weekend, they are chomping at the bit to get out and explore what Meaford has to offer.
In Meaford they can venture off on their own to search for beach glass on the waterfront, hike or ride our many trails, play games in the parks, or simply ride a skateboard along our safe streets.
Sure they are sometimes wishing that we had a mall for shopping, or that we had a movie theatre, but on the whole, they are never lacking things to do here in Meaford.
With the end of the school year approaching, the warm season opportunities for Meaford's youth are actually quite impressive.
Swimming at the Blue Dolphin pool, or in the even bigger pool of Nottawasaga Bay, trips to the library, organized soccer, or tossing a fishing line into the river just scratch the surface of activities for our youth.
We even have a sailing school geared toward youth in Meaford – that isn't something that you can find in most communities.
Granted, there could always be more organized activities, there could be weekly dances at the community centre, or perhaps there could be more day camps geared toward specific interests. Small communities though, have a difficult time supporting such activities as the numbers just aren't there to keep them going.
This summer there are some extra opportunities for kids to busy themselves.
On Canada Day there will be a soap box derby held that is open to anyone over the age of six. What a fantastic family project to kick off the summer vacation – building a soap box car can be a great learning experience for everyone in the family, not just the kids.
The organizers of the PLAY initiative have also been coming up with outstanding programs to occupy our youth whether it be utilizing otherwise empty school gymnasiums for floor hockey or taking part in other PLAY sponsored events that will not only entertain, but ensure a level activity among the youth that can easily be lost with too much time immersed in video games.
In this modern time of instant gratification, and constant entertainment, our kids may be losing the art of occupying themselves. There is a line in a movie I love about having to make your own fun in a small town.
“Everybody makes their own fun. If you don't make it yourself, it isn't fun. It's entertainment.”
Perhaps it isn't that there is nothing for our kids to do in Meaford, maybe we just need to be reminded of the simple pleasures that make small town living an endless opportunity for discovery. And we need to re-learn how to make our own fun.
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