The Loss of Children’s Free-Play in America Part 2

Parents may be the biggest contributor to the current decline in free-play and their fears, anxieties, worries may influence generations to come. Hara Marona’s A Nation of Wimps writes to parents;

‘Let your children play. Allow them starting when young, some totally unstructured time for exploration and free play. No schedule. No agenda. No adult coaches. No referees.” (256).
Researchers and child development experts also argue that many times our over-scheduling of children in structured activities is also leading to the loss of free-play. We have to stop being cruise directors for every aspect of our children’s lives and to quite trying to keep them constantly entertained. Dr. Bruce Perry in his article The Importance of Pleasure in Play writes;
“Abstract thinking is play. When a child fantasizes, he is playing. By taking images, ideas, and concepts from inside their own minds and re-organizing, sorting, and re-connecting in new ways, children create. They create play worlds, hopes, desires, and wishes. They imagine being a ball player, a dancer, a superhero, a teacher. In order to facilitate this, children need more moments of quiet.” Children need more solitude. Children need less external, electronic, and structured adult-world stimulation. (para. 12).

There seems to be a uniformity of researchers and play advocates that parental control and fear must be changed if free-play is to be restored in children’s lives. There current approach of publicizing the value of play and informing parents, educators, and policy-makers is one path to restoring free-play, but their has to be an effort in restoring sanity to or current system of litigation in relationship to frivolous lawsuits if we are going to lessen the mitigation and liability of free-play.

To increase free-play in neighborhoods and schools, we must break the cycle that is driven by fear of lawsuits and fear of injuries. We see a growing movement in reforming our legal system, and may be the only way to ease the fear of lawsuit felt by public entities; and that requires a shift in our litigation system. Not to prohibit lawsuits, but to have someone or a group on behalf of society who has the power of law to make reasonable rulings on the true merits of the case, and not on beliefs or fears.

Current guidelines enacted around playground safety must be guidelines and not strict regulations regarding the play-ability of playgrounds and play. There has to be an understanding that current guidelines were enacted to prevent serious debilitating injuries and death, and not to provide children with an injury free environment. Parents need to take responsibility for their children and understand that when injuries occur it does not entitle them to a blank check. Free-play must no longer be looked upon as a liability, but instead it must the inalienable right of every child, not subject to judicial review and strict guidelines that stifle children’s play.

Society’s aversion to free-play has startling developmental consequences for today’s children, and parental worries and administrator’s litigation anxieties have affected the very nature of free-play. Play deprivation negatively effects the development of empathy, social altruism and vast repertoire of social behaviors that enable children to handle stress. Research and play advocates alike believe that unless free-play is restored to children’s lives society will face children who are unable to cope with life’s daily challenges, and childhood obesity will continue to reach epidemic proportions as well as obesity related diseases like Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease, and asthma. There must be a change in the helicopter-parent mentality of today’s adults, a restructuring of our legal system in the way it handles liability and risk, and an understanding that current guidelines are simply recommended guidelines and not statutes written in stone. Society must take a long hard look at the value of free-play, and come to an understanding that child’s play is anything but frivolous play, but in reality it is the way we raise healthy and happy adults.

Works Cited
Brown, S. “Discovering the Importance of Play through Personal Histories and Brain Images An Interview with Stuart L. Brown.” The American Journal of Play. Unv. of Illinois Press. Spring 2009. 403. Print.
Ellis, R. “Child’s play moves indoors; Experts blame video games, lack of open space and fear of strangers,” NBC News, 22 July 2005. Television.
Gray, P. “Freedom to Learn: The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning.”
Psychology Today. 7 October 2009. Para. 9. 8 October 2009. Web.
Hymann Harris, M. “Safe playgrounds,” The Journal News, 25 October 2004. Print.
Kahn, C. “In pursuit of safety, teeter-totters and swings are disappearing from playgrounds,” Sun-Sentinel, 18 July 2005. Print.
Louv, R. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. 2005. 87. Print.
Marano, H. A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting. Broadway. 2008. 256. Print.
Marona, H. Laws, Risks, Fear and the Decline of Play. National Recreation and Park Association National Congress. Baltimore. 16 October 2008. Lecture.
Mattern, P. “Recess: not just fun and games,” UMN news, Winter 2006. Television.
McDonnell, Peter J., “Are we no longer a nation built upon risk?,” Ophthalmology Times, 1 September 2005. 45. Print
Perry, B. “Emotional Development: The Importance of Pleasure in Play”. Early Childhood Today. 2001. Para. 12. Print.
Play Wales. “Play.” 2006. Para. 2. Web. 23 October 2009.
Rivkin, M.S. The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children’s Right to Play Outside. Washington, DC: NAEYC. #108. 1995. 2. Print.
The Value of Play: A Forum on Risk, Recreation, and Children’s Health. Selected Quotes and Excerpts. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. 2006.

JC Boushh is a play consultant, head playground designer for Design for Play, and a specialist in child development. He has presented numerous lectures worldwide, has presented several training webinars for Kaboom, as well as authored numerous articles on play, brain development, and children’s play environments. He is a Board Member and Playground Liaison for The International Play Association/USA, a Participating Member of ASTM International F15.29, a Board of Trustee Member of the International Playground Contractors Association, a member of NAEYC Play, Practice, & Policy Group, and an associate member of the International Playground Equipment Manufactures Association. He is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, SAFE Certified by the National Program for Playground Safety, a Certified Early Childhood Outdoor Play Inspector, Head Start Body Start Physical Activity Consultant, and has been recognized by the California State Legislature for his contribution to designing safe play environments.
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