Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Play is the work of children." -Captain Kangaroo

Let there be no maximum to the number of pots and lids in service of fun!
"Effort to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum" appeared in today's New York Times and is worth highlighting in connection with "Recess, Play, and Learning" posted here earlier this week. Yeah, it has some hallmarks of a trend story, but it resonated with me, and was also a little bit sad, so here's my two cents (really, more like one and a half. It's been a long day and I am nearly played out.)

This article explores the role of parents/family members in instigating, promulgating, and promoting imaginative playtime for kids, and it hits on some key truths. Adults in kids' lives need to create the right conditions. For kids to have imagination-driven fun, they need to shut down the screens. Though, of course, television and other media can be powerful generators of play, as exemplified by my own kids' elaborate Clone Wars and Wipeout games. And we need to be cool with messiness. Not a problem in our house. Messiness abides.

The article drives by and briefly pauses on the subjects of school recess and the rigidity of kindergarten. I don't think that the majority of parents comply with reduced recess time during the school day as submissively as the article suggests. The parents and family members that I know do not, though we need to be more present in discussions about the role of play/downtime/recess in the school day. A topic for the near future.

At the same time, not all of the parents and family members I know are prepared to take up the play slack in the ways the article suggests; I resist the notion that play in schools is no longer worth fighting for and it's up to us at home from henceforth. It's not either/or. It's both. It has to be, because there are plenty of kids who don't live in households that are prepared to get messy, who don't have parents/caregivers who have any kind of time or energy to teach kids how to play capture the flag (not that I could do so - in fact, our dinner table conversation last night was nearly completely devoted to Leo and Elias explaining the rules and strategies of capture the flag to me) or build couch forts. We can't give up on play during the school day for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is that it definitively enhances learning and academic performance. 

What do you think? Do you play with your kids? How do you do it? Do you believe you need to teach them ways to play? How chaos-tolerant are you in the midst of kids' play? Do you think that the increased intensity of school/more media/more structure/perceptions and realities of less safe outdoor environments have affected kids' play? Share your thoughts in the comments? Thanks!

Three final notes:

1. Thanks to Lisa Belkin for the great Captain Kangaroo quotation.

2. As I was Googling for this post, I ran across The American Journal of Play. Is that not awesome!

3. If you're not yet hip to Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids blog, now's your chance to fix that. Skenazy busts up myths and unfounded anxiety that get in the way of kids' ability to play, imagine, have some place, explore, and, you know, be kids. Have fun.


Save Recess came across my radar just this minute. It's a blog created by a parent in Florida arguing against reduced recess at her kids' school. Looks like she has a petition and is prepared to stand up for her kids' right to, you know, be kids. So, there's one example of parent/family activism on behalf of recess per se, as opposed to play at other times of the day (which is also necessary but not a replacement). Share more with me, if you're aware of any.


  1. Absolutely! Including more play in school is essentially. We want recess, physical education and playful learning in schools--particularly a play-based curriculum for early childhood and kindergarten. School is a large portion of a child's day and for some children the only time they have these freedoms. It is true though unfortunate that some children live in homes where play is hardly an option.

  2. Play IS worth fighting for! Thanks for this rousing piece and for the shout-out! -- Lenore Skenazy, founder, Free-Range Kids