Saving Play

[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.


  1. says

    We have so limited kids from free playing mainly out of our own inability to weigh risks.
    As a parent, I probably fell into to the helicopter category for the most part. As a grandparent I am less of a helicopter but I still find myself risk managing in the “better safe than sorry” mode.
    Since the birth of my grand child I have become familiar with RIE parenting and Magda Gerber’s thoughts on child development.
    Respectful parenting allows children to play and do things at their own pace from infancy…this has helped me to step back and let my granddaughter do things on her own with help when she asks.
    It is remarkable to see how children figure things out right in front of you if you only given the space.

  2. says

    I do agree that we should encourage free play to encourage the child’s engagement and interaction with the outside world so they can learn things on their own. I used to love exploring as a child of course, i couldn’t stray too far

  3. odane Birch says

    I think i will go with “the safe than sorry”. Even though its a good thing sometimes for them to find their own way, but due to the fact that some of us as parent are very over protect of our kids. This can’t be helped though because the world is much different now than it was then.

    • says

      @odane Birch: It is not. It simply is not. This is what I’m talking about – you are arguing with opinion instead of facts. Look up the statistics. The world is very much the same as it was back then – in some areas a little safer. The difference is that now, you are being bombarded by news reports of the same few horrible tragedies, making it seem like things are worse. Those same things happened “back then,” but without 24-hour cable news networks and the internet. THAT is the difference.

  4. odane Birch says

    Do not tell me things are the same. There are more killings, robbery, suicidal shootings even in our colleges and universities now more than ever.. So don’t tell me things are the same..When you were a child the world was much safer and i think you and everyone else knows that. If you should do a poll right now am sure many people will say the world is different.

    • says

      @odane Birch: No, actually, things are not the same. They aren’t. I’ve gone ten rounds with you on this on the other post, and I’m not going to respond to you again unless you bring me some facts. Not your opinion, not your impression, but facts and statistics. If I did a poll right now I’m sure that people would say the world is different – which is the entire problem. The world is not different, people just think it is. Two of the three things you mentioned – killings and robbery – have gone DOWN in the past 30-40 years. That’s not my opinion or impression, that’s fact. Suicides have gone UP, and I have to wonder if it’s because kids aren’t getting the kinds of freedoms they used to get and simply can’t handle the things life throws at them. So, Mr. odane Birch, bring me some facts, or take your arguments some place else. You refuse to listen to reason so I’m going to stop wasting my time.

  5. Una says

    Preach it Amy! Preach it! Amen sister! Nothing more annoying then someone who argues without facts. I guess that’s why she left the conversation :)

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