The Importance and Nature of Childhood Play
One of the things that inspired me to write RetroActive: Skip, Hop and You Don’t Stop (Games We Played) was an article that I read shortly after enrolling our daughter in the Whatcom Hills Waldorf School in Bellingham, Washington. Childhood play is instrumental in our development. More importantly, creative childhood play allows children to participate in life fully and explore their relationships with others, their abilities and their environment.
I am concerned that the creative element of childhood play is threatened today. As I write in the book:
“…As children, we long for adventure. Even when there aren’t other children around to play with, we seek it. We ride bikes, build forts, explore, watch bugs, limb trees, bounce balls off a wall, go roller skating, skateboarding and sledding. We are active as children, or at least we used to be.
Unfortunately, many children today are seduced, like us, by the technology that we have created over the years. The colorful, interactive graphics of computer generated games are seductive – and addictive. Play has changed over the years. Even active play these days is different than it used to be. Children today are shuttled back and forth, to and from organized, structured activities. There are coaches, uniforms, instructions, skill assessments, fees and commitments in modern play. Houses are no longer connected by the footprints of children, and many neighborhoods are quiet today. Children no longer have to invent games; they just have to participate in them. They don’t make the rules, they abide by them. They don’t pick the teams, they join them…”
Joan Almon’s article, The Vital Role of Play in Childhood, echoes and expounds on my thoughts. In it, she says:
“…The central importance of creative play in children’s healthy development is well supported by decades of research. And yet children’s play, in the creative, open-ended sense in which I use the term, is now seriously endangered.
School children no longer have the freedom to explore woods and fields and find their own special places. Physical education and recess are being eliminated; new schools are built without playgrounds. Informal neighborhood ball games are a thing of the past, as children are herded into athletic leagues from age five on…”
Of course, children still play today. But the creativity, wonder and unique personal relationship with play is sacrificed when children are enrolled to participate in organized, structured sports activities. The real magic of childhood play is left behind in the backyards, courtyards and streets of neighborhoods from where children come to participate in modern play.
The spirit of chldhood play — of individual, creative and active curiosity is under threat today. As parents, we think we are doing something good for our children by enrolling them in serious, well managed sports programs — by shuttling them from their homes to play on expensive artificial turf and wear professional-style uniforms. Personally, I think we’d be doing more for them if we allowed them to join their friends in a pick-up game of kickball in the backyard after school. We’d be doing more for them if we allowed them to make their own rules, to pick their own teams and to explore their own boundaries.