Kids’ Choice: Self-Directed Play

Nico

“If I get to pick what I want to do, then it’s play…if someone else tells me that I have to do it, then it’s work.”

- Patricia Nourot

Monday: Soccer practice, piano lesson & homework

Tuesday: After-school science program & homework

Wednesday: Soccer practice & homework

Thursday: Band practice, gymnastics & homework

Stop me, before I go on…and on. Which, by the way, is exactly how many kids’ schedules look today — like they go on an on. Substitute whatever organized activities you like — baseball, dance, computer club, etc.  Add in time spent shuffling in the car back and forth across town, and you are left with a very adult schedule and pace that is doing more harm than good and squandering away the brief childhood that kids are afforded.

Personally, I find it odd that so many of the people that lament the fact that children grow up too fast today are the very ones putting their kids onto the fast-track in the first place. Over-scheduled. Over-stimulated. Exhausted. Stressed. These are not words that should characterize childhood. But in today’s world, these words ring out loud and clear.

According to play theorists, “Play is a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated (Wilson, 2009).”

Sounds reasonable, right? Now read the definition again, and then apply this definition of play to any given structured activity — even one that you currently view as  a child’s play or recreation time, such as an organized sport.

  • Is it child-centered and led?
  • Does it have a set of directions, desired outcomes, rules, etc.?
  • How much input does the child have in the activity?
  • Why are they doing it? Does it involve pleasing adults or earning rewards/points/rankings?
  • Is it (still) fun for them?
  • If the adults were not there, what would happen? What type of learning and how much fun? Would the kids carry-on as scheduled, or morph the activity into something of their own creation?

Dozens more questions come to mind, but you get the point. All of this adult input and direction has taken the play out of play. In our quest to keep kids busy and promote well-rounded development, we have taken what kids need most out of childhood: time to be kids.

I encourage you to take an honest look at the schedule of the kids in your world. I’m not saying no sports or organized activities – just a lot less. One per season is fine — yes, even if other people look at you like you are crazy when you say little Johnny is not signed up for karate, guitar lessons, and art classes in addition to soccer. Remember, it’s little Johnny’s job to play — to learn through making up his own rules, making decisions, playing make-believe, assessing risks for himself, trial and error, and the wonders of the intrinsic value of doing something for the pure joy of it.

Remember too, that little Johnny has homework to do, the library to visit, sleepovers to go to, chores to do, and the lots of time to spend hanging out with friends and family. He is busy, so it’s time to free up his schedule and clear that calendar a bit. Let today’s kids retire their day planners until the time comes when they really need one. It will be here soon enough, of this you can be sure.

See ya outside! – The Grass Satin Guru

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Muttoo

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