An important part of the movement is teaching children themselves how to play. The average 3-year-old can pick up an iPhone and expertly scroll through the menu of apps, but how many 7-year-olds can organize a kickball game with the neighborhood kids?
The lines above hit me as the core of the piece I am linking up as well as pasting below. It is strange that something one would consider common sense needs to be written about as a ‘movement’.
My kids can open up an iPhone and get it going but they still aren’t allowed to play on my PC or the OA’s laptop. Something that usually shocks most people who start off a conversation with how their one year old knows how to switch on their computer. I will admit that at times I get nervous and wonder if I am doing the right thing. The one bit of solace I get is from their school that doesn’t have any computer aided teaching or interaction at this stage, something that most other schools brag about. So clearly I’m in tune with someone! Two points that struck me – One, I don’t believe that they have to get into technology to get a headstart (what is a headstart? and why?). And two I don’t believe – and this is something that struck me after my last post on Beyblades – that kids must do as their peers to have a peaceful childhood. Just because a majority are doing it is no reason to follow. I spent a childhood being part of a minority religion, minority community in a small town in heartland UP and I grew up in the way my family believed, not the way others were rearing their kids. I don’t think I regret it one bit and I am so glad my family stuck to their guns and had us behave/live/learn the way they wanted us to.
And while we’re there, let me share one of my favourite songs – Cat Stevens/ Yusuf Islam singing Where do the children play. This one is for you, Uncle B (Harshika, you know who I mean).
January 5, 2011
By HILARY STOUT
SARAH WILSON was speaking proudly the other day when she declared: “My
house is a little messy.”
Ms. Wilson lives in Stroudsburg, Pa., a small town in the Poconos.
Many days, her home is strewn with dress-up clothes, art supplies and
other artifacts from playtime with her two small children, Benjamin,
6, and Laura, 3. “I let them get it messy because that’s what it’s
here for,” she said.
Ms. Wilson has embraced a growing movement to restore the
sometimes-untidy business of play to the lives of children. Her
interest was piqued when she toured her local elementary school last
year, a few months before Benjamin was to enroll in kindergarten. She
still remembered her own kindergarten classroom from 1985: it had a
sandbox, blocks and toys. But this one had a wall of computers and
“There’s no imaginative play anymore, no pretend,” Ms. Wilson said with a sigh.
For several years, studies and statistics have been mounting that
suggest the culture of play is vanishing. Children spend far too much
time in front of a screen, educators and parents lament — 7 hours 38
minutes a day on average, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family
Foundation last year. And only one in five children live within
walking distance (a half-mile) of a park or playground, according to a
2010 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control, making them
even less inclined to frolic outdoors.
Behind the numbers is adult behavior as well as children’s: Parents
furiously tapping on their BlackBerrys in the living room, too
stressed by work demands to tolerate noisy games in the background.
Weekends consumed by soccer, lacrosse and other sports leagues, all
organized and directed by parents. The full slate of lessons (chess,
tae kwon do, Chinese, you name it) and homework beginning in the
earliest grades. Add to that parental safety concerns that hinder even
true believers like Ms. Wilson.
“People are scared to let their kids outside, even where I live,” she
said. “If I want my kids to go outside, I have to be with them.”
Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist at Temple University
in Philadelphia, concluded, “Play is just a natural thing that animals
do and humans do, but somehow we’ve driven it out of kids.”
Too little playtime may seem to rank far down on the list of society’s
worries, but the scientists, psychologists, educators and others who
are part of the play movement say that most of the social and
intellectual skills one needs to succeed in life and work are first
developed through childhood play. Children learn to control their
impulses through games like Simon Says, play advocates believe, and
they learn to solve problems, negotiate, think creatively and work as
a team when they dig together in a sandbox or build a fort with sofa
cushions. (The experts define play as a game or activity initiated and
directed by children. So video games don’t count, they say, except
perhaps ones that involve creating something, and neither, really, do
the many educational toys that do things like sing the A B C’s with
the push of a button.)
Much of the movement has focused on the educational value of play, and
efforts to restore recess and unstructured playtime to early childhood
and elementary school curriculums. But advocates are now starting to
reach out to parents, recognizing that for the movement to succeed,
parental attitudes must evolve as well — starting with a willingness
to tolerate a little more unpredictability in children’s schedules and
a little less structure at home. Building that fort, for example,
probably involves disassembling the sofa and emptying the linen
closet. (A sheet makes an excellent roof.)
“I think more than anything, adults are a little fearful of children’s
play,” said Joan Almon, executive director of the Alliance for
Childhood, a nonprofit pro-play group. “Some people have a greater
tolerance for chaos and have developed a hand for gently bringing it
back into order. Others get really nervous about it.” Megan Rosker, a
mother of three (ages 6, 3 and 2) in Redington Shores, Fla., has
learned to embrace the disorder. She set aside the large sunroom in
her home for the children and filled it with blocks, games, crayons,
magazines to cut up and draw in, as well as toys and dress-up clothes.
“I think a big part of free play is having space to do it in, a space
that isn’t ruled over by adults,” she said.
“The other key is not to instruct kids how to play with something,”
she said. “I can’t tell you how many board-game pieces have been
turned into something else. But I let them do it because I figure
their imagination is more valuable than the price of a board game.”
But, Ms. Rosker added, “I won’t claim any of this has been easy for me
or my husband,” noting that her husband used to be “a total neat
freak.” She said they have learned to live with disarray and to take
other difficult steps, like strict limits on screen time.
Ms. Rosker has also campaigned, although unsuccessfully, to bring
recess to her son’s elementary school. But school officials were too
worried about potential injuries, unruliness and valuable time lost
from academic pursuits to sign on to her idea and, she was surprised
to find, many parents were similarly reluctant. “They said: ‘I’m not
going to sign that. I’m sure there is a good reason why this is good
for our kids — our school has good test scores.’ “
To try to reach more parents, a coalition called Play for Tomorrow
this fall staged what amounted to a giant play date in Central Park.
The event, known as the Ultimate Block Party, featured games like I
Spy, mounds of Play-Doh, sidewalk chalk, building blocks, puzzles and
more. The National Science Foundation was closely involved, advising
organizers — and emphasizing to parents — the science and the
educational value behind each of the carefully chosen activities.
Organizers were hoping to attract 10,000 people to the event. They got
more than 50,000.
“We were overwhelmed,” said Roberta Golinkoff, a developmental
psychologist at the University of Delaware and a founder of the event
along with Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. They are now working with other cities —
Toronto, Atlanta, Baltimore and Houston, among them — to stage similar
events, along with making the Central Park gathering an annual one.
The goal, in some ways, is to return to the old days.
“When I was growing up, there was a culture of childhood that children
maintained,” said Jim Hunn, vice president for mass action at KaBOOM,
a nonprofit group that is a leading voice in reducing what it terms
the “play deficit.” He noted that he learned games like Capture the
Flag from other children. To revive that culture, he said: “Parents
have to reassert themselves in this process and teach them how to
play. It’s critical that parents take some ownership and get out and
play with their children.”
But promoting play can be surprisingly challenging to parents. Emily
Paster, a mother of two in River Forest, Ill., a Chicago suburb, tries
to discourage screen time and encourage her children to play
imaginatively. That usually works fine for her 7-year-old daughter,
who is happy to play in her room with her dolls for hours. But her
4-year-old son is a different story, especially in the cold weather
when he’s cooped up.
“If he wants to play, he always wants me to play with him,” Ms. Paster
said. “This child has a million toys. Every kind of train you can
imagine. But he really wants a partner. If I’m meant to get anything
accomplished — dinner, laundry, a phone call — then it’s really
Encouraging brother and sister to play together only goes so far. “It
seems like there’s a ticking time bomb,” Ms. Paster said. “Someone’s
going to decide they’re done before the other one’s ready.” Sometimes,
a video screen is the unwelcome but necessary alternative.
But once they’re used to it, Mr. Hunn said, children will direct their
play themselves — a situation Ms. Almon recalls from her own
childhood. “Our neighborhood gang organized a lot of softball games,”
she said. “There was no adult around. We adjusted the rules as we
needed them. Once the adults are involved it becomes: Here are the
rules, and we have to follow these rules. It still can be a good
activity but stops being play.”
In the vast world of organized children’s sports, a few parent-coaches
are getting that hands-off message. Ms. Almon knows of a soccer coach
who started allowing children to organize their own scrimmages during
practice while he stood silently on the sidelines, and a hockey coach
in Chicago who ends practices by shooing all the adults off the ice
and letting the kids skate as they please.
There are more formal efforts, in addition to the Ultimate Block Party
initiatives. The US Play Coalition, a group of doctors, educators and
parks and recreation officials, plans a conference next month at
Clemson University on the value of outdoor play. KaBOOM has built
1,900 playgrounds across the country, most in low-income
neighborhoods, and in September helped organize “Play Days” in 1,600
communities. It also has added do-it-yourself tools on its Web site to
help parents organize and create neighborhood play spaces themselves.
Another Web site scheduled to start this spring,
LearningResourceNetwork.net, aims to create a broad educational source
for parents and teachers.
“Our first big push will be on play,” said Susan Magsamen, the
executive director of the group.
An important part of the movement is teaching children themselves how
to play. The average 3-year-old can pick up an iPhone and expertly
scroll through the menu of apps, but how many 7-year-olds can organize
a kickball game with the neighborhood kids?
Toward that end, at the Central Park event, parents were given a
75-page “Playbook” outlining research on play and offering children
ideas for playful pursuits — things that generations past did without
prompting and that may evoke in today’s parents feelings of
recognition and nostalgia.
“Climb on the couch with your friends and pretend you are sailing on a
ship to a distant land,” reads one idea. Another, from the section on
construction play: “Lay a toy on the floor and figure out how to build
a bridge going over the toy with blocks.”
“Make paper doll cutouts from old newspapers and magazines,” a third
suggests, “and let your imagination fly!”