[The following post is sponsored by Playworld Systems.]
When I was growing up I had a lot of freedom to play on my own. I could roam around my neighborhood, play with other children, put on talent shows, have adventures, make new friends, scrape my knees, get into arguments, make up, invent games, and discover new things.
None of this play was directed by parents, it was all “free play.” We were left to figure things out for ourselves, make the rules, and navigate new situations. I truly believe that the freedom I had back then played a huge part in making me the person – and the parent – I am today.
Sadly, I think a lot of that has been lost. When my kids were little and I would take them to the playground, I was often one of the few moms on the bench. Some parents played with their kids, others stood nearby in order to caution the kids about not going too high, or to step in if a disagreement broke out.
I have no doubt that those other parents did those things with the best of intentions, but I also think that they should have parked their butts on the bench next to me and let their kids figure things out for themselves.
When I saw this video from Playworld Systems about saving play, I knew I’d found kindred spirits.
This line from the video hit especially close to home:
“When we used to go out and play on our own, that was the place where we discovered ourselves.”
Are our children discovering themselves anymore? Are they learning to negotiate the world? Or are they just shuttled from place to place and activity to activity with very little room to do anything for themselves?
Free play teaches kids how to regulate their emotions, negotiate situations with other people, and get themselves out of trouble. It’s no wonder kids are having difficulty leaving the nest these days, living at home for a lot longer than when I was growing up.
A staggering number of young adults still live with their parents. Some of this can be blamed on the economy, but I have a feeling that some of it is due to the lack of maturity of the first kids to reach adulthood after being raised by helicopter parents. They’re not emotionally ready! They’re still trying to learn things that they should have learned on the playground when they were ten!
In an Early Childhood Play Report released by Playworld Systems, some advice is given on what we can do to make outdoor play a priority, and the first suggestion is my favorite:
Support the development of resiliency and self-reliance in play
As society in general and parents and teachers more specifically become more risk averse, adults continue to overstructure and overschedule the lives of children to their detriment. When engaged in play, children should assess and manage their own risk.
Assessing and managing risk is, I think, one of the most important things that a child can learn. At seven, a child is figuring out if he should climb higher on the jungle gym. At 10, he’s gauging whether or not it’s safe to cross the street. At 17, he’s trying to decide if he should get into a car with a friend who’s been drinking. At 24, he’s weighing a great apartment in a bad neighborhood against a cramped studio in a safe one.
These things are learned gradually, so it’s best to plant the seeds early.