karlson graph without club names small

What Kids Want, We Can’t Give Them (Simple Though It Is)

This graph, from a suburban elementary school, represents what after-school club kids chose as their first choice.


There were a bunch of options like chess, music, art — all of which I had my own kids enrolled in at some point in their childhoods. But as you can see from that big, green wedge on the left, the most popular option of all DOES NOT INVOLVE ADULTS TEACHING KIDS ANYTHING.

The big green wedge represents the kids hoping to join The Let Grow Play Club.

Instinctively, the kids know they want — NEED — time WITHOUT someone older and wiser helping/teaching/intervening/optimizing an hour or two after school. They want TIME TO JUST PLAY.

It is so hard for adults to realize that “enrichment” doesn’t only happen when adults are enriching an experience. It is hard to realize that playing even something as simple as tag ITSELF is vital and valuable. Kids learn to organize themselves, think ahead, pivot in real time, deal with fear (you’re being chased!), and accept loss. That’s therapy, strategic planning and physical exercise all rolled up into one, kid-led activity.

If kids understand how much they need this age-old natural resource — play time, with friends — why don’t the rest of us? Why don’t schools offer a long stretch of free play time every day from 3 p.m. till supper?

We laud the schools that do. And we have a simple implementation guide for those who don’t yet. It’s free! Not that you need an instruction manual to start offering play time. Just that if you’re wondering how to get buy in, and what is the role of the adults, and how to explain it to parents, and which rules, if any, should be explained and enforced, we’ve got your answers right here!

One Response to What Kids Want, We Can’t Give Them (Simple Though It Is)

  1. fred schueler November 3, 2022 at 2:38 pm #

    Back in the 1950s baseball lost its attraction when we were taken from the backyards and uniformed into Little League, and my brother resigned from Boy Scouts because they didn’t know how to use White Pine twigs and Birch bark to start a fire…