Readers — The folks at Playworld Systems, makers of playground equipment, not only made this elegiac video about saving outdoor free play, they’re also keen on reminding us all about the importance of early childhood play. Me too, for a variety of reasons, including one you don’t hear that much about: How early childhood play can be eerily predictive of who we become as adults. Example? Here’s what one middle-aged woman remembered about the games she played in childhood:
“We had all kinds of games, playing hard every day after school, every weekend, and from dawn until our parents made us come in at dark in the summertime. One game was called chase and run, which was a kind of complex team-based hide-and-seek and tag combination… As with all our games, the rules were elaborate and they were hammered out in long consultations on street corners. It was how we spent countless hours.”
She still spends countless hours in consultations and team-building. Her name is Hilary Rodham Clinton. I have to thank peter Gray’s book, “Free To Learn,” for digging up that gem of a memory, but whenever I give talks about the value of play and ask the audience, “Can you see any connection between the games you played as a kid and the adult you are today?” most everyone can. (When I asked that at an Early Childhood Education conference, practically everyone remembered playing “Teacher.”)
The thing that makes free play different from Little League,or school, or really, any other organized activity, is that you don’t get to BE the powerful or brilliant “you” you envision yourself in those. You are stuck being the kid. Do this. Do that. Follow the rules. But free play is powerful and unrestricted.
And while I did not grow up to become the Wicked Witch of the West (the role I always chose when playing), I DID grow up to enjoy going against the grain. And while Joel, my playmate, did not grow up to build log cabins (at least, not out of Lincoln Logs), he did grow up to be a real estate developer.
Give kids freedom to play and one of the things they’ll do is start practicing for adulthood, and even learning some of the skills they’ll need. (Though I never did learn how to train a flying monkey.) – L Playworld Systems sponsored this post about play, for which I thank them!