Children Need (Unstructured) Play

by | Apr 25, 2011 | 2011, Musings | 0 comments

Two headlines caught my eye this week. One said, “Freeze Tag, Wiffle Ball Deemed Dangerous in New Summer Camp Regs” (NBC New York). And the other asked, “Are Kids Today Having a Childhood They’ll Remember?” (USA Today)

As part of an effort to tighten regulations regarding activities at summer camps, games like Dodge ball, Red Rover, Wiffle ball, Steal the Bacon and Capture the Flag were all deemed dangerous by the state of New York.

One state Senator, Patty Richie remarked, “It looks like Albany bureaucrats are looking for kids to just sit in a corner in a house all day and not be outside. I don’t think Wiffle ball is a dangerous sport.” While I understand that child safety must be an issue for anyone supervising children’s play, I whole heartedly agree with her!

The article questioning whether or not the kids of today will have great memories of their childhood also intrigued me. The case was made that children of today do not roam their neighborhoods enjoying free play. They don’t walk to school. Play dates and team sports have replaced running around with your friends. Extracurricular activities have nudged out imaginary play. Structured summer camps have replaced the “lazy, hazing, crazy days of summer.”

I was particularly struck by the comment, “Analysts say there are increasing signs that a lack of independence fuels stress, anxiety and depression among young people. Many child-development specialists and others worry that it’s just not as much fun to be a kid anymore.”

Historian Paula Fass of UC Berkeley has a new book coming out in the fall called “Re-inventing Childhood in the Post World War II World.” It is her contention that “it is not that their lives are more hazardous, but perceptions of the hazards have increased a lot.” And Michael Ungar (a professor at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia) has written a similar book entitled “Too Safe for Their Own Good.” He contends that kids were actually in a lot more danger 30 or 40 years ago. Things like round the clock news, TV dramas about child abductions and our incredibly litigious society have actually eschewed our views of child safety.

This musing can not argue the merits of this issue in such a short space, but I must admit that I agree with the tenor of the material. The kids of today are generally overscheduled and “underplayed”. They need time to explore, risk, try new things and yes, fail at some of them! The unstructured time will allow them to relax and just play without always worrying about their performance level.

This week, let’s all consider the one verse we have that gives us some insight into Christ’s childhood. Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” I see some real balance being depicted in that passage. His life reflected growth that allowed Him to gain the blessing of His father and the people around Him. And that what we all want for our children. So, let’s let them play!

By His Grace and for His Glory,
Sherry L. Worel


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