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Chatterbox: Sandbox skills


Today, I thought I was going to coin a phrase.

Still, just to be sure, I googled it first because the collective consciousness often gets where I’m going … ahead of me. Sure enough, I was too late. Google found a pert near exact phrase … disappointing, but it only shows that there really is a collective consciousness.

Google offered “Sandbox Social Skills” as a term. I, in a moment of exhaustion and frustration, used the expression, “Sandbox skill” – the “social” part, I felt, was obvious. After all, what else can it be in a sandbox? Google brought up a quite literal skill set for sandbox play, more like rules than skills. My personal need for the expression and meaning of it, however, was a lot more collective yet expansive; I implied skills that were pretty basic and learned young but served us throughout adulthood. Anyway, we do all have them, and if we don’t, we certainly should or we are missing something essential to basic and daily human interaction.

In the movie, “Burlesque,” there’s a scene in which the rich guy is explaining to Cher what he believes to be his very pragmatic approach to acquiring what he wants. “That must have made you very popular in the sandbox,” she replies as only Cher can. She was being sarcastic, of course, but that sandbox analogy is huge and, when I heard it, it launched dozens of common sense connections in my head.

We’ve mentioned before how most people look back and wish we had known decades sooner what we do know decades later. I’d never want to know the future but, every day, I wish I had then, the general knowledge I have now or, at least, been the person I am today (better would be great).

Watching my grandchildren growing up every day reminds me that adult comprehension during childhood is, of course, not only impossible and would make us living anomalies, but it’s a frontal lobe incongruity … too bad. Still, if we grasp that, accept it, live and raise our wee ones by it, keep remembering it and repeating it like a mantra, we might stop regretting our own inability to be old before our time. Then, we’ll finally and truly understand both the value and the limitations of the sandbox skill set.

Google’s list was short, featuring a couple of skills that only work in the sandbox like, “Don’t throw sand,” but the broader meanings and some of the other rules, like sharing and respecting the work of others, do translate into adulthood.

There are also skills which aren’t exactly learned right in the sandbox, but they’re so basic many of us assume they’re learned during our sandbox years. Ergo, they can be considered sandbox skills, and life requires many of them be carried into adulthood.

They include our listening and speaking skills, social interaction, honesty, group dynamics and maybe even one that would help people like the rich guy in “Burlesque”: We can’t always have what we want.

Today, many children aren’t playing in the sandbox or even under the streetlights enough to hone the more finite skills which unsupervised play offers. The baby boomers from way back perfected those early childhood sandbox skills and use them on the daily even now. Chatterbox 27, 2006 talked about how well the perks of street play dynamics served youth back in the days when after school hours didn’t involve anything more technical than a jump rope or a bike, and some friends.

Today’s kids participate mostly in organized, uniformed, affiliated, adult-run, trophied, badged, and itinerary-driven recreation. It doesn’t afford young people the opportunity, on their own, to set guidelines, avoid mistakes, or make and fix them, accept or deal with them and their consequences, as a part of daily life. There’s always a grown-up in charge and adjudicating.

Between my house and my nearest super market is a small development. One house, which I pass en route, is on a corner lot. It affords a large piece of open space where I often see a batch of kids playing touch tackle football. Occasionally, they even play in the snow; my heart soars.

I slow down, watching the fun, sometimes catching them ironing out a squabble through flushed cheeks and shouts, and I think to myself that they’re perfecting the street skills that will carry into their adulthood.

From now on, though, I’ll just call them their sandbox skills, which are critical to carry with us long after our sandbox days.

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