Sunday, January 26, 2014

Let them play

I rant regularly about how kids should be let out to do what comes naturally to them rather than be squeezed into structured 'safe' play.  Watching helicopter parenting and outrageous safety concessions at Elli's school drives me bonkers - some of this is city living vs. country and some of it is just a cultural shift in the past thirty years that makes me unfavourably compare modern parenting to how I was raised.  While keeping kids safe is a laudable goal and all I think at the moment we have embraced anything that restricts children's behaviour even if there is no concrete reason to think it will actually improve their life and health in the long term.

I found an article today supporting my view that children thrive in a much less structured play environment.  It talked about a reasonably large scale experiment in schools that got rid of playground rules and let children just get out there and make their own fun.  The thing that really grabbed me was that they let kids have a big pile of junk and play with it.  Old tires, wood, and a hose (plus presumably lots of other junk left uncatalogued) was left in a stack for kids to play with.  That sounds awesome!  I look at empty schoolyards today and am sad but a random stack of objects to play with, crawl under, and use in playing pretend sounds like a real attraction.  Build stuff!

The trouble with implementing this sort of thing is the desperate grasping for control that people want over their children's play.  People want to know that every object on a playground has been inspected, sanitized, and vetted.  This obsession is unnecessary and absurd - it does make sense to have standards for manufactured objects to ensure that they aren't seriously hazardous but there is no need to keep out any random thing on the basis that if kids eat it or hit each other with it somebody will be hurt.  I survived just fine living on a property with a sawmill, a quicksand pit, a river, and old broken cars and I was the better for having those things to explore.  Controlling everything a child experiences just stifles their natural creative urges and exploration.

I don't really expect this to take hold here as I think we would need a serious cultural shift before it would take hold.  Right now we are far more concerned about avoiding any possible harm than we are about doing the most good and that needs to change.  The goal of education should be to produce the best possible set of adults and should not be so tied up in trying to avoid legal action.  To do that we need fewer rules and a lot more piles of random junk to fuel young imaginations.


  1. I can across this article about yesterday: I thought it was a very interesting look at the importance of 'unstructured' play. And by unstructured I mean not regulated and designed by adults.

  2. Reading this post, I couldn't help but think it was a clear parallel to the surveillance state and open-concept office design. We are just living in a control-obsessed society.