At age 4 1/2 we had our first attempt at a ‘big girl´s’ bike for our daughter, and today we can finally say
In our most recent trip to the park we begun to realize that the way kids play has changed immensely, we couldn’t even find one group of kids playing the way we used to. Of course time changes things, but it is not just that: Unstructured, messy, chaotic, free play as we knew it is completely disappearing from our kids lives.
We decided to do some web searches to find out if this was a widely spread perception and found ourselves overwhelmed with the amount of information and investigation around this issue.
This American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report digs deep into the matter and explains:
It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
So, apart from having tons of fun, we did some serious skill building while free playing with our neighbors.
There are however many external factors that are affecting the way we live and, as a side effect, the way our children play. Some of them are:
These points, and others we fail to mention, are all very valid and sometimes inescapable consequences of the world we live in. But we should also contemplate the fact that if play is the most important way for children to develop, we could be seriously affecting our own future adults.
This awesome article about The Junk Playground of New York City shows us an interesting approach and provides some insight on things that we could try to do at a community level, but it is probably not going to be an easy task since it requires to change what parents and teachers think is the best way to raise kids.
In an effort to ensure safety and success, freedom gets limited and play gets structured.
Sadly, there is no magic solution at the end of the post, no one-size-fits-all approach but only a few ideas that we should remember:
We need to bring free play back into our families, double extra points if outdoors!
PD. This TED talk is really worth watching too: