Child’s play

I asked my friends on Facebook about their favorite childhood memories and here are a few of the replies.

Steven said, “Playing outside until the streetlights came on…Riding my bike to the mini mart because it was two miles away, not on every street corner.”

From Holly, “Getting lost in the dense woods behind my house–climbing rocks, walking barefoot in the brook. And the slight fear of never really knowing if we (friends or siblings) would find our way out before dark.”

Erin shared, “Playing outside after school, building forts in the woods, playing kickball after dinner – flashlight tag etc. No worries.”

Tonia – “We swung on a rope from the tree, canoed and splashed in the lake, ate junk food, and played Milles Bournes and Nerds all night. When we biked home, it was all downhill, so we coasted, no hands, all cocky, but we sometimes braked because we were really whipping along the country highway.

And from Kimberly, “My mom would pick up a KFC bucket for dinner on the beach.”

Ask your friends.  Here is what I bet you’ll get.

Jumping into puddles and climbing trees. Building forts and acting out skits. Digging your toes in the sand or getting dirty in the mud. Board games and getting dressed up for no reason.

They remembered the joy of play…Activities with no “purpose” other than to have fun.

And therein lies the problem.  I look at my kids’ schedules and there is little room for real play.  They have school. Homework. After-school sports. Scouts. Academic computer assignments. Music lessons. Tutoring. I have signed them up for these things and, even though I have limited them to one sport and one other activity each week, they are slammed with stuff.

Play, and the freedom to do it how and when you want, is relatively non-existent for the modern kid – my kids are no exception.

, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting expert, talks about play in a Huffington Post piece earlier this year.

“Many children lack sufficient time to engage in child-directed unstructured play. Children are so busy with academics and so overloaded with adult directed activities that they don’t have time to simply be children.

And she goes on to say that playing HELPS kids become better adults.

Through play, children learn to master their fears, assert their needs, process and cope with their emotions, and learn to get along with others. Play helps children resolve conflict and relieve stress.”

Yup.

The belief that play is critical and that kids should have more time to do it are two of the many reasons I was drawn to the Sudbury model of schooling.  I want my kids to learn, to be happy and to be productive members of society.  AND I want them to enjoy the process along the way.  I want their young lives to be joyful and interesting. And it turns out that allowing them encouraging them to play is a great way to do all of that.

Now I realize that the world of “Mayberry” is gone for most Americans.  No longer can you let your kid run around the neighborhood until the dinner bell is rung or the sun goes down.  But, we can create a space to allow kids to be kids.  There is plenty of time to knuckle down and be serious later in life, but childhood is fleeting.  Even if you have no interest in choosing a school like Sudbury, you can make an effort to create room for real play time in your kids’ week.

While we may not be able the replicate the literal freedom of the past, we can give our kids the time and space to make their own best childhood memories.

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