Are We Turning Play into Big Business?

Kid’s play has become big business instead of simply letting kids do their thing. The business sector is creating all kinds of play programs for kids.  In my book But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home I say. “We run the risk of making children’s play so organized, supervised and academic that the value of play gets lost. Children have always played — and it’s not instead of learning and growing, it’s actually how they do it. Play is the essence of childhood. And because it brings alive our curiosity, exploration and passion, play is something we should continue throughout our lives.”

I also say, “If we want our kids to grow up to be self-sufficient and independent with good problem-solving skills, play is the place to start.” So today, we will talk about play.

But first, I have enjoyed reading your comments from my newsletters and blogs. I invite all of you to participate in the conversation. What do your kids like to play? What are the best toys? Just comment at the end of this newsletter or any of my posts on the website.

The Early Years Conference in Vancouver was a great experience. I presented my workshop, Making Sense of Physical Punishment to an engaged, informed and interactive group. I also was thrilled to meet a range of people from across the country who work with children in the early years.

I am looking forward to going to Las Vegas in early March, to Ottawa in May, very possibly a trip to Calgary in the late Spring. I will be in Washington state and Oregon in August and Winnipeg in December. If you have an event around these time and would like to take advantage of my travels please contact me. I’d love to work with you.

And now, let’s play.

Just Let Them Play

“Mom I’m going to the park with Jason.”

“Okay dear. Dinner is at six.”

Michael and Jason head off to the park where they meet up with six other kids and soon they are having a great time kicking a soccer ball around the field.

Sounds surreal, doesn’t it?

Instead of sending kids out to play, we are structuring and organizing their activity. But our kids simply need to go to the park with other kids and play.

Often, when we talk about kids becoming more active we look to organized sports. Problem is that organized, team sports should be a small part of a growing child’s experience. Team sports are great. They teach skills specific to the sport, how to follow orders, how to work as part of a group, how to take turns and how to win or lose as a team. They develop values of loyalty and cooperation as well as team building.

But, kids need daily exercise. They need a variety of physical experiences and they need to get involved in these kinds of activities without the structure of a class. First, most kids should physically get themselves to school. If all kids walked or took the city bus to school, they would have the company of other kids. Most of us have heard of a walking school bus. An adult starts at the beginning of a pre-determined route picking up kids and she goes along. That’s a good place to start, but it should be seen as a training tool. Once kids know how to walk safely between home and school they need to do it on their own.

The walk to school is a time for them to bond with their peers. It’s a time to experience the thrill of independence found in being able to navigate the route from home to school. And it’s a time to look around and discover their neighbourhood. None of this happens when there is an adult in charge.

During school hours they need exercise. Let’s re-visit daily physical education for students at all levels. It won’t diminish their academic career; in fact kids who participate in physical education do at least as well if not better than the kids who focus totally on academics. And they learn that being physically active is an important part of being healthy.

After school and on weekends they need a whole range of activities. Supervised and structured activities are not enough. Participating in a team sport is an important part of child development, but free, unstructured play is more important.

According to early childhood educators at Lethbridge Community College the key elements of play are that it is voluntary, intrinsically motivated and is freely chosen. The child controls the activities. It is pleasurable, spontaneous and enjoyable. In other words free play. And that’s exactly what happens every day in our back yards and at the park. It allows the child to test her abilities, to flex her muscles and be creative.

Kids are couch potatoes because we aren’t opening our doors and letting them outside. Of course, we need to street-proof our kids but that’s always been the case. It was true in the 50s when I was running free with my friends and it’s true today.

If we get all our children outdoors playing, then they will be in a group and we will see a healthier, happier group of children. And what’s wrong with that?





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