Baseball was my life when I was a 12 year old kid. I couldn’t get enough of it. Between 1987 and 1990, I either watched or listened (on the radio) to pretty much every broadcast of San Francisco Giants baseball games. I kept track of player stats on my own because the newspaper just didn’t report enough detail. Every baseball card I could find of Giants players I maticulously curated in protective sheets and placed them by year in binders. I even had dreams that our house was magically connected to Candlestick Park which allowed me to sneak into any game I wanted. Clearly I was a weird kid.
Baseball Is Life
It wasn’t just about watching baseball, I also loved to play it. For me, catching a pop fly in center field was about the best adreneline rush I could ask for. I played little league but I wasn’t particularly good at hitting. Being a tall and painfully skinny kid, I just couldn’t get around quick enough to hit a fast ball. My favorite memories of playing baseball aren’t from when I played on an organized team but when it was just me, my friends and random kids who showed up to play in the street.
During the summer I could barely wait to finish dinner so I could run outside to see who was ready to play. We would set out frisbees or doormats in the middle of the road as bases and we hit in the direction of a vacant field at the end of the street. If it was earlier in the day, we would ride our bikes to the elementary school lugging bats, gloves and balls with us. What made this type of baseball so fun was that there were no coaches yelling at us to choke up on the bat. There was no pressure of over-involved parents in the bleachers or the fear of messing up a play. We had no supervision and we could modify the rules any way we wanted.
When Kids Make Their Own Rules For Play
The kids decided the rules together and we also decided the consequences of not following those rules. Sometimes we had arguments but mostly we had this innate sense of what was fair and what would maximize fun in the game. Many of these rules were made of necessity because we only had 5 or 6 kids. Not enough for full teams. We nearly always used ghost runners because we would cycle through batters too fast. Sometimes right field was out because only 1 kid covered the entire outfield. To make the game more exciting, we picked an arbitrary outfield marker like a tree to simulate a fence which meant a home run for hitting past it.
Looking back on these baseball games, I realized all the great life skills we learned. With no adults, we had to resolve our own conflicts. We had to enforce fairness rigorously because even 1 kid leaving early could end our game. For the younger brothers or sisters who came, we had to figure out how to include them (designated runner usually worked pretty well). The big takeaways for us were solving disputes, making agreeable rules, adapting to unpredictable variables (not enough gloves, losing a ball over a fence, an uninvited aggressive dog or some random adult who showed up and asked to hit just once) and making it fun enough so kids would play with us. All of these basic things are the building blocks for living in a free society.
This type of unsupervised play seems to have seriously fallen out of fashion but the ability for kids to figure out fair rules still lurks somewhere within them. Kids don’t naturally understand the reasons for all the rules in their lives and so they frequently push boundaries. But kids do seem to understand freedom. This activity will help them explore the concept of freedom and when to restrict it.
Build Your Own Free Society
The thought of a human settlement on Mars isn’t just limited to science fiction anymore. NASA has proposed to reach Mars by 2033 and Elon Musk’s SpaceX has an “aspirational” goal to send a cargo mission to Mars in 2022 followed by another mission with a crew in 2024. This isn’t very far away and with the prospect of people living in a colony, rules will have to be decided. Charles Cockell, an astrobiologist at the University of Edinburgh, has given the possibility of a Mars colony a lot of thought. He says, “One of the things that has been so important in the history of human civilisation is freedom and liberty, so what we wanted to do was think about liberty beyond the Earth.” And so he has formed a commission to come up with a proposal for a government on Mars.
Here’s the activity: have your kids do what Dr. Cockell has done with physicists, philosophers, historians and come up with a plan for a new society on Mars. Explain to your kids the possibility of colonizing Mars and some of the plans to do so, e.g. SpaceX. Give them some facts about the planet and what they might encounter there (Britannica has a good article you might refer to).
- Name your colony.
- Draw your design for how a Mars colony would look. Show where people would live, where they would grow food and how their transportation might work.
- On a piece of paper, create and list a bill of rights for Mars. Include at least 10 things that will help preserve freedom for the people who live there. Remember, your goal is to make it as free as possible.
As your kids go through this exercise, play devil’s advocate with them. Challange some of the things they want to put on their list with questions such as “does this promote or limit freedom.” If it limits freedom, do they think their reason is worth the trade-off?
Things To Consider
What About Earth Laws?
A big part of these exercises is to get kids thinking about what makes for good rules and how to balance freedom while still keeping people safe. In the United States, we do have a lot of freedoms but they have limits. One person’s freedom can often cause harm to another. These are the tug and pull debates the we will likely always have. Here are a few more discussion questions for your kids:
- Freedom of speech (What if speech is rude, mean, racist? If it should be limited for these reasons, who gets to decide what speech is banned? Is it better for the law to tolerate bad speech but allow society to decide what speech is acceptable?)
- Right to bear arms (Should the law allow people to own guns? Do people have a right to self-defense? Or should only law enforcement be allowed to have guns? If you believe individuals should be allowed to own guns, what restrictions should be allowed?)
- Right to own property (Should the law allow people to own property? Should it protect this right against others? Under what conditions should property be taken from a person? Or should it ever?)
- Equal protection under the law (Do rights apply to all people? What if there are groups of people who are not getting their rights protected? What should be done?)
My kids are still too young to understand all the terrible ways that people can do wrong. And all the nuances in the balance of protecting rights and preserving freedom can get complicated. But one thing was appearant to me after going through these exercises. Kids have a good sense of justice and fairness. They aren’t too young to start thinking about these issues and they can defintely benefit from a little unsupervised play to develop self-regulation. So I’m gonna suppress my urge to helicopter parent, take my kids to the park and let them make the rules to their own game–that is, if I can get them away from Netflix.