Do Kids Learn How to Play if We Just Kick Them Outside?

Readers — I always love Jen Singer‘s funny, thoughtful take on things. It’s nice to see her son appreciate her, too! – L

Mom, You Did Something Right. “Wait, What?”

by Jen Singer, a.k.a., MommaSaid

January 15, 2014

Pudding Hill Mining Company

When your parenting is chronicled for all to see, you run the risk of screwing it up in a big public way. Or you can get something right. As we approach MommaSaid’s 11th birthday, I am pleased to report that my own child told me that I had done something right when it comes to parenting.

He and his buddy Drew were talking in school yesterday about how I had encouraged them to make forts and play outside (by limiting their access to electronics and shooing them out the door.)

“I remember being mad that you wouldn’t let me have a [Nintendo] DS in fourth grade, but now I see how it got me to play outside so much,” my 10th grader declared. He and Drew decided they were the “last generation” to grow up offline, and they were lucky for it.

Read more here. (Really. Do. You’ll get a kick out of it!) – L

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16 Responses to Do Kids Learn How to Play if We Just Kick Them Outside?

  1. xpurg8d January 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    When my grandson was born, someone gave my husband and I a book about “non-wired” things for kids to do. They meant to be thoughtful.

    It remains unopened, while said kid is nearly five and comes in from the back yard filthy and tired every week when he spends the day here. I’m told he is a pirate, spaceman, monster, veterinarian, farmer. He is all those things without any advanced degrees in “how to play”.

  2. Gina January 20, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    @xpurg8d
    I agree! We don’t need books telling us how to “unwire” our kids any more than we need books telling them how to play.

  3. Merrick January 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Sometimes people are SO disconnected from the very idea of Free play that they do need guidance in where to START. And that especially includes kids* who have had every prior moment guided by adults… but that guidance can be “see who can swing the highest”, “we read a book about fairy houses why don’t you build some” or “go ride your bike” or “here’s some sidewalk chalk” which usually is enough to get kids STARTED on the right track. A lot of kids can take off from some activity like that even if they never have before but are dumbfounded to discover themselves self-directed in free play.

    *I’ve met lots of these kids through Scouts!

  4. Reziac January 20, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    Bah, a little mud and a stick, what more do you need? 😀

  5. Laurambp January 20, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    Great post! My guess is that kids don’t need to learn how to play outside unless they never get the chance, so it gets stiffled.

    On an unrelated note, this article has been going around my facebook news feed, and it’s pretty much everything Lenore stresses with this site: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2014/01/16/7-crippling-parenting-behaviors-that-keep-children-from-growing-into-leaders/

  6. SOA January 20, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    yes! The more bored kids get the more creative they get!

    I was so happy to go to the park today and there were a ton of kids out enjoying the warm day for January on the MLK break from school. It was a packed playground. Good for parents getting their kids outside.

  7. MichaelF January 21, 2014 at 5:18 am #

    My kids ask to go out in the back yard, they just pull stuff out from the garage and play. My problem is picking up after them rather than dealing with their lack of imagination in play.

  8. Puzzled January 21, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    I certainly agree with the sentiment here, and that children have no need for structured ‘play’ to learn how to do it, so long as they are given the opportunity from a young age. I disagree, though, with the implication that video games somehow don’t count as play, or as something worth doing. My take is that whatever a child feels like doing counts as play and carries value.

  9. Ann January 21, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Loved that post. When the weather is nice, I literally tell my kids, they can’t come inside unless they are bleeding. :) Jump ropes turn into zip lines, empty cardboard boxes turn into forts, and yesterday, a wagon was turned into a sled. (I had to put a stop to that one! It was a concussion waiting to happen.) One of my girls did end up with a black eye yesterday, but honestly, she is no worse for the wear. She had a great day running around with her friends all day.

  10. Jess January 21, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Love this. I am that mom that kicks my kids outside and tells them “Go play”. They stand around a whine for a few minutes sometimes, claiming boredom, but eventually they always find something to do. Sometimes they draw elaborate things on the cul de sac with chalk, sometimes they organize bike races, sometimes they play hide and seek. But they always eventually figure out how to amuse themselves. I think parents today sometimes just don’t have the patience to hear the whining and stand strong and say “Oh well, figure it out”. We want to solve all their problems for them, even when the problem is as mundane as a boring afternoon.

  11. Jenny Islander January 21, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Those “How to Play” books are handy at very young ages, when what you really need is 365 Things for Your Toddler to Do Instead of Climbing Your Leg. I had a book like that, only with a nicer title. Sample project: On laundry day, strip the beds first, build a tent by draping the dirty sheets over some kitchen chairs, and wash the sheets last.

  12. anonymous mom January 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    This is great.

    I think some of the resistance to letting kids play by themselves is fear, but some is just bad ideas we’ve developed about parenting, especially that parents constantly need to be involved with and directing their children’s play, so that it is maximally educational and enriching. I used to feel guilty about not wanting to play, but with my later kids, I got over it. Now, I’ll occasionally help build a block tower or brush a doll’s hair or give some suggestions, but mostly they are on their own. Playing is their job, not mine, and that’s okay.

    I see stay at home moms online all the time bemoaning how they have no time. None! They can’t even shower! They can’t manage a glass of water! Every single second of their day is consumed with providing enriching experiences for their children! Now, clearly they are lying. (They have time to write blog posts and blog comments, after all.) But, the odd thing is that they think this is an *admirable* thing to lie about, as if having children so needy that you cannot even spare the time to brush your teeth or throw in a load of laundry is a badge of honor. It shouldn’t be.

  13. Captain America January 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    For me, I think the BIG THING here is that it gives kids a chance to learn to cooperate.

  14. J.T. Wenting January 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    “I agree! We don’t need books telling us how to “unwire” our kids any more than we need books telling them how to play.”

    sadly a lot of parents do need such books.
    My sister’s kids had iphones when they were 3 or 4, now at 7 and 10 they each have an ipad, a Nintendo DS (or whatever), and a laptop.
    The youngest especially is a television addict as well, watching television for 10-15 hours a day, while playing games on his ipad and listening to music on his iphone at the same time…

    They never leave the house, because it’s so inconvenient if they bring dirt out of the fully terraced garden into the living room (and of course “they could get hurt out there”).

  15. Susan January 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    I love this post, yet I’m discouraged by it. So many posts of this type that I see in Internet Parenting Land refer to “the woods out back” or “our back yard” or “the park down the street.” I live in an apartment in a major urban area–there are no woods for dozens of miles, no backyard, and few parks. (And while I’m theoretically in favor of Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day, my daughter isn’t even 4 yet, and I’m not quite ready to have her mosey a mile away on city streets yet by herself.) I’d love to see more ideas about free-range parenting and outdoor time for kids whose location or income doesn’t permit access to woods, fields, streams, or even simple yards. Sure, I can take my daughter to the park on a Sunday, but what about the rest of the time???

  16. Papilio January 22, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    @JT Wenting: Wow! So your sister’s kids are among the 9% of 6-12yos that play outside ‘never’ (Jantje Beton, feb 2013). Sad.
    (For the curious: 1x/week: 13%, 2-3x/week: 25%, 3-6x/week: 33%, every day: 20%. Even though it is declining, 79% of them could still play outside without an adult nearby.)