Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Free Play

Do you remember the time when your parents let you walk to school alone at the age of 9? Do you remember playing out on the streets in the woods with friends and without parents hanging around? Do you remember when you did death defying stunts, jumping off high places, climbing trees, racing on your bike and no one shouting, "Don't do that you could hurt yourself."? I know I do. Yet so many parents these days restrict their children from free play because of risks some of which have been perpetuated by the media and the alarming amount of cars on the roads and the sue culture.

In the UK they are closing roads at certain times to allow children to play in a car free zone, allowing children to ride their bikes, to use chalk to create and play games and to build a sense of community in their areas, the sort of thing my parents had and so did I to some degree as a child. Even I have been become fearful of allowing my children to play out on our quiet street, I have to be able to see them, going past the driveway is simply a step too far. When I sit down and think about it, it makes me feel sad.

One of the things I noticed about moving to North America from the UK was the overwhelming amount of scheduled before and after school programs kids are involved with. Some get up at 5am to practice ice hockey some are playing soccer at 7pm at night, some do both. These children are young, the ones I have witnessed are under 8 years of age. It is an incredibly long day for kids, when do they get to rest their minds and enjoy their free time or have time to play, be creative without structure without adult guidance?

When my children went to school in the UK our after school activity would be to walk to the local park nearest the school and let the kids play. Sometimes a group of mums would take a picnic, let the children play whilst the mums worked together preparing the blankets and food and drinks. It was so much fun. we were outside, getting fresh air and it did all age groups a world of good. The kids could release some steam and enjoy time with their friends and the parents would get to know one another and build friendships that can at time be challenging when kids are rushed off to their out-of- school activities. I don't do this in Canada, kids are being rushed away, I am unable to build relationships with other parents because there is simply no time due to their children's heavy schedules, it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

The school my children go to in Canada has a wonderful forest that the kids are allowed to play in. They can climb trees, build camp fires, build art with sticks, splash in puddles, pick up worms, get outside and learn. They have to watch out for bears and coyotes and understand safety where wildlife is concerned, they observe owls, woodpeckers, hawks, eagles. We live in the suburbs, it is built up with lots of houses but there are places to go in search of nature. Not all schools have this luxury but I made a point of finding such a place for my children. Their creative play time is so advanced compare to where it was three years ago, it is a joy to watch.

Have you ever watched your kids play? Sometimes I would observe the children playing and watch them work together as a team, try and test new ways to do something and allow for idea generation from everyone in the group. It would soon become obvious who was the leader of the pack and how everyone naturally fell into place or how they would share the leadership role. This is what play should be about, no interference from over protective parents/adults, sometimes kids need to learn with their peers.

Some businesses are noticing the upcoming generations are not as creative, they are structured, conform to rules, because schools insist that they study hard, ready for tests, there is little creativity in that. I am already seeing more homework coming back with my child at grade 3, it is unnerving.

Why have we become so obsessed about structured time opposed to free creative play time? It certainly makes you think about what we are doing to our children in the society that we live in today.

Watch this awesome video about free play, it is inspirational.