Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Let Them Play!

[Editor's note: The title for this post is taken from The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977), one of JB Doubtless' all time favorites.]

In last Saturday’s WSJ, Lenore Skenazy—one of the forces behind the Free Range Kids movement—announced the arrival of Leave-Your-Kids-at-the-Park-Alone Day!:

Today, with any luck, you may see something strange at your local park: children. They may even be there by themselves, frolicking. I hope so. That's exactly the point of "Take Our Children to the Park . . . And Leave Them There Day."

The concept, which I cooked up last year, is for parents to take their kids to their local park at about 10 in the morning and then, if they're at least seven or eight years old, leave them there for a little while, unsupervised. With all the kids outside together at the same time—and no adults telling them when to eat their organic grapes, cut into sixteenths—they'll finally do that thing we did when we were growing up.

They will play. It may be hard, because they're out of practice. But it's a start—an attempt to bring back something wonderful that's been lost in our age of helicopter parenting.

Most importantly, the kids will have to figure out how to play on their own. Parents won’t be around to come up with the ideas or lay down the rules. One of the most important things that you learn when playing with other kids is the need for compromise and consensus. If you want to play baseball with four kids, you need to agree on how you’re going to manage “ghost runners.” In football, how many Mississippis you’re going to count before rushing the quarterback. This holds true for almost any game or activity that you’re going to pursue sans adults. Sure, you’re going to have arguments and disputes, but that’s part of the fun. Fun that kids will never have and lessons they will never learn if they don’t get a chance to play on their own.

Meanwhile, in the May 16th Star Tribune Julie Pfitzinger offered advice on how to play it safe with kids:

Once kids arrive at the playground, they should be reminded to remove their bike helmets before climbing up on equipment since the chin straps could be a choking hazard if they get caught on a bar. For the same reason, kids should refrain from wearing hooded sweatshirts with drawstrings when they play and opt for sneakers instead of flip-flops or other rubber shoes.

Check the playground area itself to make sure there are no sharp nails or screws protruding from equipment and that there is an appropriate amount of mulch, pea gravel or grass beneath the play surfaces.

When spending time with young children at the park, active supervision by parents and the elimination of distractions is important.

"If you are busy talking or texting, you are taking attention away from the child," said Petersen. "It also makes for a better experience for the child when the parent is engaged in play."

A better experience for the child or the parent?