Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Play, A Lost Art

Welcome to the New Year. Honestly have had a bit of writer’s block over the past few months, ok more than a few, months. I finally found the topic to get me writing again. PLAY or, rather, the lack of it in our children’s and our own lives!

Our kids are living in very structured worlds where they go to swim lessons, soccer practice, piano lessons, and after-school math tutors. Whew! I remember heading out the door after school when the only rule in our Brooklyn neighborhood was to be back by dinnertime. I know times are different today but I do think that we, as parents, are over-reacting and over-structuring our kids.  
As a kid, when we played basketball, there were no coaches, no time clock, and no audience of parents to assess our performance. We played shirts and skins. When one game was over, if no one was waiting on the sideline to join the next game, we'd reshuffle the teams,  re-balance the game and start anew.

Years later, sitting on the side line watching my daughters practice soccer at a very high level (two of them played in college), I often waited for the day when the girls would tell the coaches that they were going to organize their own game and just play after practice or on a weekend when there were not any ref's or adults around.

Hillary Stout has written a great article in the NY Times about a “movement” to encourage parents to let their kids play more. Play meaning unstructured, intuitive, making-a-mess, building tents in the living room kind of play.

I ride bikes a few days a week early in the morning (click here to see the crew with our bikes) with some long time friends. We say we will ride hard for coffee. Nothing better than ending a cold morning ride with good conversation and some coffee. Well, yesterday as my little group was waiting to cross a major intersection, my wife and son drove by on their way to school. She honked and we waved. Last evening at home, I asked her, "Well, how did we look?" Obviously fishing for a compliment and hoping to hear: “Well you all looked professional in your spandex and helmets” or even “Wow, you all looked spectacularly fit."

Her answer, at first,  surprised me. She said: “You were all laughing at something and seemed to be having a great time.” Later on I realized: that is what it is all about: laughter, activity, friendship and maybe a chance to keep old man time at bay, one more day.

So keep the kids in swim lessons (of course) but try not to micro-manage all of their down time. And if they can become a little more “play” self-sufficient, maybe you can finish reading that book as you listen to them planning their fort in the family room.


Joe Oehme said...

Hey Bob,
I agree with your thoughts on the unstructured free play - it promotes so many great things; imagination, creativity, cooperation, etc... Kids need to be kids. Yes times are different now with safety and protection being what it is in today's world...but there ought to be an effort from us adults to allow for this type of healthy activity.

I was taken back a bit the other day when our 7 year old neighbor knocked on the door to see if Emma could come out and play... not to go to a scheduled play date, or a skills clinic, but to play...

The ability and/or opportunity to develop those situations independently are critical in their social and psychological development. So would it be ironic if we scheduled in some free play time into their day?
Either way, I'm with you Bob. Just Play!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you found a topic to get you writing again! I agree with unstructured playtime, always have! I limit my 7-year-old son to three hours of screen time per weekend (TV, video games, etc.) One Sunday, when he used up the time, he started whining that he was bored. I told him, "Figure something out." Within 15 minutes, he was outside with the wagon that became his pirate ship. I was asked to tie a bandana on his head and find the play money to use for treasure. A full three hours of pirates ensued with his neighbor friends and he had to be dragged in for dinner. They all have imaginations, it is our job to give them space and time to use them!

Swim School Bob said...

Joe --- Thanks for your thoughts --- only thing I forgot to add was the importance of making sure the kids get to their fair share of rock n roll concerts --- Bob