Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

As many of you know, I’ve been riding the hobby horse of free play for some time on this blog, as have many other delightful and like-minded colleagues.

Now the New York Times has chimed in:  The culture of play is vanishing, Hilary Stout writes. It’s an all-too-familiar tale — children’s face-time with electronic screens is growing, their outdoor world and their freedom within it are shrinking. Organized activities have replaced imaginary and child-directed ones. Fear of litigation and/or academic fallout have caused some schools to do away with recess. Some parents hover; some are too busy; some don’t like the mess ..

It has all added up to a culture in which free play is not valued or experienced. The New York Times tells us that the tide may be turning. They cite many groups that are working toward enhanced free play, such as Kaboom and Play for Tomorrow, which created a “play day” in New York’s Central Park last fall, with more than 50,000 attendees!

People, clearly, yearn to play.

The folks at the Rhode Island Children’s Museum would concur. Their Play Power program largely came about because they noticed that children were starting to be conditioned to want to be told the “right way” to play. And parents seemed to be oriented to outcomes, rather than the process of playing.

From the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, comes this resource about the benefits of free play.

Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe, has a lot to say about children’s need for play, including:

A good toy, a toy that nurtures creative play is ninety percent child and only ten percent toy.

From Education.com comes a really good piece about the importance of free play, how it may have been lost and how to get it back.

Last April, I wrote about the trend toward toys that fostered children’s imaginations and led to open-ended play, and included the wonderful story of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, which built a whole Box City when they realized that kids were happier playing with empty boxes than with some of their installations.

Since then, I came across another delightful tale of box play.

Other great resources and people fostering the free play movement include The Alliance for Childhood, The National Institute for Play, Playborhood, and The Children & Nature Network, among others. (There are more on the Slow Family Resource Page.)

Want to explore more? The U.S. Play Coalition is holding a Conference on the Value of Play, Feb 6-9 at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

Whatever you do, keep playing! And fostering a love of play in your kids.

Related Posts on Slow Family: Babies Learn by Playing

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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12 Responses to Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

  1. So enjoyed this post. It’s great to see more people who are looking out for and supporting children’s play. Isn’t amazing how boxes and other loose parts can bring out some amazing imaginative play. I particularly like a post over at Teacher Tom about it: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/boxing-day.html.

  2. I have found that it takes actually unplugging the tv to get our children to play freely – and they’re only 1 & 3. We’ve restricted tv from birth, so they’re only accustomed to commercial-free videos. I thought that that was the answer, that the commercial were the problem. Well, they are, but they’re not the entire problem. It’s addicting.

    At the moment, we’re a completely tv-free house – my children are creating a giant train track in the living room, using all of their trains and tracks. My family thinks our children are being deprived of “the joy of childhood”.

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  4. It’s kind of sad that we need a movement like this, but given the (sedentary) situation, I am glad there is one!

  5. On this important topic, be sure to see the documentary: Free Play — What are the consequences of a childhood removed from nature?
    At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, PLAY AGAIN explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds. Follows six teenagers who, like the “average American child,” spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure.
    An aspect that I continue to explore in my physical balance and coordination movement programs is the neuro-muscular effect of tamping down the world to visual/audio inputs from screen-based sources (that are 2D visual and single audi0-channel directed). These have serious implications for “re-wiring” vulnerable physio-biological networks that coincide with the tremendous growth children experience with human growth hormone between the ages of 3-9. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/sports/playmagazine/04play-talent.html
    Also, refer to this: Myopia risk – one more reason kids need nature.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122374802
    Researchers are studying whether outdoor light somehow changes the way our eyes grow and have found that time spent outdoors in childhood is important to our vision.

    In training peripheral vision as a part of our natural waking and fall prevention class. More and more good info is emerging about this topic: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013173841.htm
    “Humans constantly shift objects between central and peripheral vision and may encounter effects like the curveball’s break regularly,” the authors wrote. “Peripheral vision’s inability to separate different visual signals may have far-reaching implications in understanding human visual perception and functional vision in daily life.”

  6. Eek! I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ve been busy playing and have neglected to answer your wonderful and thoughtful comments!

    Beth, Thank you for writing and for introducing me to Teacher Tom, whose blog is immediately special and one I’ll visit often. I’m glad to also know about Playworks — so many great advocates for play! I will add you to my Resource list.

    Canadian Doomer, your blog is great, too! (I’m a big canner, among other interests we share.) That’s so sad that your family thinks your 1 and 3 year olds are deprived without TV! There’s so much else to do (at any age!) and so many more fun things for little ones to do that they actually developmentally and socially prefer anyway. Keep on keepin’ on. Your kids are benefiting. You have compatriots in the blogosphere.

    Mel, I know exactly what you mean. It seems natural to want to play (and for many of us it is.) I think the ease, domination and hypnotic nature of electronic images just lures people in. That’s my take anyway — The rare times I do sit down to watch TV, I fall asleep.

    Randy, it’s so great to see you here. I really appreciate you mentioning the film, “Play Again”, which I really want to see. You bring up so many vital facts about how our relatively new habits are actually shifting people’s physiologies. That’s pretty scary! Thank you for taking the time to share the findings in such detail.

    I hope you’ll all keep visiting, sharing, shouting, building train tracks in your living room, and doing other fun and caring things.

  7. Oh, thank you so much for the compliment.

    I’m happy to report that we’ve been completely tv-free now for most of January. The kids play readily and … our three year old has started to read!

  8. Suz,

    I so appreciate this post. I had missed this article in the NYT.

    Free play and giving space to the imagination with make-believe and very little (or no) screen time is so important in our household, but I wonder how much we are in the minority.

    It’s reassuring to hear others who believe in the value and joy of simple, unstructured play, indoors and out.

    Thanks for all the great resources you cite. The Strong Museum of Play is here nearby — I should check it out!

    Take care,
    Amy

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  10. …if you get a chance, please check out my post ‘Toys are Over-Rated’…I suspect we might be on the same page here!

  11. So well put and right on target…..This post is so closely aligned with what I’ve been thinking, researching, talking about, working toward, for the past decade as a filmmaker/educator trying to document lost moments within children’s (almost lost art of….but not if we can help it!) free play, and for the past three years as a mom. David Rockwell of Imagination Playground loves to throw out that box play scenario, and he was able to put his money and NYC’s behind it. I’m intrigued by the loose parts his team developed and that kids are now using all over the world, and yet he brought the scenario full circle and is now marketing another thing for schools and playgrounds to buy. So it’s complex. I personally am much more excited to see locally-sourced loose parts in children’s play (think Reggio Emilia/REMIDA’s “Beautiful Stuff”), and have considered embarking upon a new crusade to get bins of random, child-friendly yet non-toy-like objects, into the playgrounds of NYC. I’m sure that’ll be quite a feat but I have hope that the tide will turn, with so many voices like your own (and the groundswell of activism on this issue in NYC itself) reminding us all to slow down….slow the buying, the watching (of media), the doing (of too many scheduled activities). Thank you!

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