Encouraging ‘Play’ or stiffling it?

Great article from Slate.com on the current state of ‘Play’

The Paradox of Play: Are kids today having enough fun?

…Priding themselves on keeping up with quirky youth interests and desires, marketers can now count on ever younger consumers chasing after brands and fads. Yet notice who’s not complaining. It’s rare to hear kids these days gripe that the adult-mediated play regime gets on their nerves. That very lack of resistance from video-savvy, sports-crazy kids is currently inspiring yet more adult concern about youthful stress, even as the engineering of play becomes ever more ambitious…

…Consider the schemes for a “next-generation playground” to be built at New York’s South Street Seaport, designed by David Rockwell, who has created adult recreation spaces such as Nobu restaurant and Café Grey. Working in consultation with a variety of child-development experts, he exemplifies the cutting-edge interest in ensuring more than mere physical safety. Where the playground upgrades of more than a decade ago took the “jungle” out of gym, with the spread of spongy surfaces and tamer “climbing structures,” the new focus is more finely tuned. Promoting group synergy and innovation is the goal, echoing the corporate culture of places like, say, Google. ”Play is not optional for kids,” Rockwell told the New York Times, in an article (subscription required) announcing plans for the more free-form play area with movable parts, to be staffed by “play workers” trained to facilitate the best use of them; “play is how children learn to build community, how they learn to work with other people, it’s how they learn to kind of engage their sense of creativity … to understand that they can control their own environment.” The target audience was a little young to offer much in the way of comment, but follow-up articles (subscription required) indicated wariness among adults: Of course it’s great to get kids outdoors, but shouldn’t they be left more to their own devices?

The article, at the very end, also briefly discusses a book aimed at young boys about the “old-days” of play — “from making bows and arrows to learning about constellations and heroic battle stories.”

…”the thirtysomething authors are counting on a particular audience: fathers eager to embrace a rustic vision of self-reliant and resourceful childhood that few of them actually experienced—and even more eager to believe that such a vision still holds an appeal for children, too.

And maybe it can, though that is only likely to happen with some help from Dad. (No boy I know would delve into this book of his own accord.) But this isn’t necessarily the contradiction it might seem. After all, the modern father’s ineptitude when it comes to building a treehouse or a go-cart, not to mention playing marbles, could prove a godsend. Instead of a fussy facilitator, he can be a fellow bumbler, feeling his way and having fun. As he may well have forgotten by now, that’s part of what is called playing. <link>


One thought on “Encouraging ‘Play’ or stiffling it?

  1. You might enjoy the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It’s all about how children need to play, especially outdoor, unstructured play in natural settings. It’s a really interesting, really though-provoking book.

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