Think back to your childhood. How did you play? I know for me and many others, play consisted of outdoors, unsupervised, imaginative activities, from the playground to the woods. We would walk or bike (without a helmet) around the neighborhood to gather our friends to join us for a game of war, a scavenger hunt, or a soccer match. From the moment we got home from school, until it was time for dinner, we were outdoors- face to face with our friends, their families and ours, active, imaginative, cooperative and connected.
The play ground looked different than our play grounds today. There were swings with chains, a jungle gym, a merry-go-round, a see saw, a tall metal slide and pavement below your feet. We would jump off the swings after seeing how high we could get. We would hang from our knees or flip off the jungle gym. We would slide like a train with three of our friends down the slide, while another was climbing up it.
If problems arose, we had to solve them. We had to learn to cope, learn from our mistakes, and only if the situation was bad enough would we go get an adult to help. Considering they weren’t anywhere in sight and it usually meant walking a while to get to them, that was a rare occurrence.
Recess, which was twice a day for 30 minutes each time, consisted of games like football, cops and robbers, red rover, and my personal favorite, jump rope. I can still recite many of my jump rope songs. Of course I can, because while we were reciting our songs, we were moving. The essential act of movement to solidify learning. The way we lie down new nerve cell networks in our brain needed for all growth and learning…movement.
You see, all these ways that we were just simply “playing” as kids, helped us to develop our brains in ways that support learning of academic skills, as well as social skills and self-regulation.
Todays “play” looks much different. For many if they even get down time, it involves the use of some handheld technology. Children are stationary more than ever. In school, as young as Kindergarten, children are at desks. Recess is 15 minutes long. Children are coming home with hours of homework. They are being shuttled from one structured, adult led activity to the next. Our children are busy, hurried, and over scheduled. There is little face to face contact, little imagination left in play, children are never unsupervised and are often helicoptered. There is always an adult hovering around to jump in and help should a problem arise.
Today’s children aren’t given the opportunity to think for themselves, problem solve, connect in meaningful ways, or move nearly as much as they need to despite the many years of research out there to support it.
As a result, we are seeing children with struggling social skills, a lack of coping skills, children who are seeking movement in unacceptable ways, and the diagnosis rate is skyrocketing. Bullying is skyrocketing. Suicide is skyrocketing.
It seems that we are headed backwards instead of forward as time progresses. It seems that getting back to the basics, the simple, the proven would be best for our children.
So you see, children haven’t changed. Their basic needs are the same now as they were 30 years ago. No, children haven’t changed, but childhood has changed drastically. And we are seeing the results of this everyday in the news.
Lets get back to nature, back to movement, back to risk, back to connection and back to childhood.