Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children

Ann Althouse discusses a New York Times article entitled Putting the Skinned Knees Back Into Playtime in which a popular recent book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, is mentioned.
David Elkind writes these words in the Introduction to his new book, Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children:

Children’s play – their inborn disposition for curiosity, imagination, and fantasy – is being silenced in the high-tech, commercialized world we have created. Toys, about which children once spun elaborate personal fables, now engender little more than habits of passive consumerism. The spontaneous pickup games that once filled neighborhoods have largely been replaced by organized team sports and computer games. Television sitcoms and movie CDs have all but eliminated the self-initiated dramatic play that once mimicked (and mocked) the adult world. Parents…regard play as a luxury that the contemporary child cannot afford.
Over the past two decades, children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities…
The psychological consequences of the failure to engage in spontaneous, self-initiated play are equally serious and equally worrisome…there is little time for exercising their predisposition for fantasy, imagination and creativity – the mental tools required for success in higher-level math and science…
In regard to the role of play in child development, I always assumed that children used play to nourish their cognitive, social, and emotional development. But I never made an effort to articulate how play contributes to healthy development at successive age levels. I now appreciate that silencing children’s play is as harmful to healthy development (if not more so) as hurrying them to grow up too fast too soon…

A number of months ago, I came across an article entitled The Importance of Play published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The press release related to the article notes:

A new report…says free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.
The report…is written in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time…
Whereas play protects children’s emotional development, a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children…
The report reaffirms that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance…
Still, many parents…worry they will not be acting as proper parents if they do not participate in a hurried lifestyle…

Oh, if you only knew…
(H/T: Instapundit).

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17 years ago

I lived in Bennett County South Dakota for a while. It’s an area larger than RI but with only about 2500 people. With the nearest Wal-Mart or McDonalds 2 hours away, you did not see many of today’s “conveniences” so kids still played in the dirt and were out of the house most of the day (as a matter of fact, I can’t remember a single person who had a playstation or X-box).
You also couldn’t help but notice that ADD & ADHD were almost non-existent.

17 years ago

I work mainly with adolescents now, but I still get out the play-doh and the bubbles and the legos. It is necessary to, first, relax, and then talk about problems.

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