The Crisis in Play; is there a war against children?

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Is there a war against children?  That thought went through my mind while reading the book “Living with a Wild God” by  Barbara Ehrenreich

Ehrenreich is a noted scientist and writer.   The book is a fascinating autobiographical account of  her attempt to come to grips with the universe.  She writes well and provides a great deal to chew on and some moments of powerful connection.  One occurred for me when I read these words:

Miss Sabatini, my third-grade teacher in Queens, made us sit with our hands crossed on our desks and our feet flat on the floor, all the time insisting that we “must learn self-control.”  Although clearly if we had any real measure of control over ourselves and our lives we would be out in the playground, running and screaming.   In this war against children we all enter on the losing side and carry our wounds along to the next generation. 

I think anyone who can remember their school years can remember the anguish of sitting still when every nerve and muscle in our bodies wanted to do jumping jacks or even jump out the window.  How challenging must it be for today’s kids who have had their recess cut down to as little as 15 minutes and who have to continue to control themselves in millions of backseats as they make their way to adult managed sports or play dates.

How did this happen?  Do we suffer some form of amnesia after the age of 12 that prevents our remembering how desperately we wanted to play?  How did we manage to turn our kids into office workers who slave away at a desk and don’t even get to go out and have a drink after work.  No, they have to keep working…on music…on sports…on homework.

There is a crisis in play and we intend to explore it and provide some answers in this magazine and during the World Congress of Play in September.  Do you think there is a crisis in play?

2 thoughts

  1. Great topic! If you haven’t seen this TedTalk, check it out: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
    There is a reason it is the most watched TedTalk.
    Personally, I think we should have MORE school … longer days, year round school, and teachers should move with their kids through at least two grades (since a great majority of the school year is getting back up to speed at the beginning and winding down at the end) … BUT, it has to come with the understanding that when kids can’t sit still or pay attention, it’s not because they have ADD, it’s because they are kids, and they need to balance school with breaks, exercise, engagement, fun, creativity, music, foreign languages, dancing … play.
    Of course, that’s just a dream.
    Thanks for covering it!

  2. Richard
    Nice to find out that you also grew up in Queens also.Agreen with you on the past and present crisis.
    We passed Juniper Valley park to and from school. It was an oasis in the middle of the desert of concrete and steel fence surrounding PS 49 Here is what I recently wrote about play as I was growing up in Middle Village (despite the long days of being forced to sit still, and to be good and pay attention–
    …”also playing in Juniper Valley Park, about two blocks away. There were squeaky baby swings with a wooden seat and bar across that slid up and down that I loved to sit in to swing back and forth. The Park always played a central role in my life as it was a great place to play, meet friends, and practice skills like swinging, hitting a handball or tennis ball, moving across the jungle gym, or riding down the slides. There were ball games to watch, bike rides, and walks through the park in all seasons; and days spent sledding the hills in winter, cooling off in the sprinkler showers in the kiddie pool during the heat of summer or playing tennis. “
    Children need to be active every day and discover fun out of doors. Fortunately programs like Playworks and Kaboom are doing their best to expand recess and play activities. We need to join together to make PLAY an essential part of each child’s day.
    to be continued

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