Wisdom Wednesday

Apr 11, 2012 by

In her article entitled “Einstein May Never Have Used Flashcards, but He Probably Built Forts” (published in Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education), author Lory Hogue discusses the importance of free play in childhood. Notice the word “free” in that phrase “free play”. There’s a big difference between taking your kids to a gymnastics class and setting them loose in your yard with as little interference from adults as possible. According to research cited by Hogue, playgrounds don’t fit the bill:

“For some kids, their only outdoor time is spent at local playgrounds, what Goodenough calls ‘austere concrete and plastic gyms.’ Usually there’s a climbing object and a swing, all on a flat surface. The problem, she says, is that this kind of space only develops gross motor skills like balance and coordination. It does little for creativity and sensory exploration.”

At first, I disagreed with this. Who doesn’t love going to the playground? Kids socialize there, climb there, play there! But it’s true: Free play, going outside with what are really more tools than toys (shovels, buckets, water, sticks, etc.), is slowly dying. I know I had plenty of it in my childhood. We made dangerously constructed forts, dug giant holes, trapped baby fish in streams, staged excavations and did more than a few things that my parents would probably rather not know about. But we survived, and we learned from it all.

When I think about it, what my 3 year old son plays with most aren’t even toys. He stacks rocks and sticks and roasts invisible marshmallows on invisible campfires, uses sticks as screwdrivers to “repair” trees and makes nests for the birds. Now that the weather is turning warmer and it’s staying light later, I vow to give my kids more free play time.

As Hogue quotes one of the play researchers in her article,

“In our highly programmed, commercial world, down time and away space slip away. Children need the space and time every day to do nothing, so that who they are can grow.”

A good reminder as spring, and soon, summer, arrive :)

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Sarah Bernhardson

Sarah lives in eastern Connecticut with her husband, Dave, and their two sons, Nate and Joshua. She recently completed her Master's in Elementary Education at Eastern Connecticut State University and now works part-time as a museum educator at a local children's museum. While pregnant with her firstborn, Sarah was puzzled when more seasoned mothers she knew broke into raucous laughter when she complained that she might be bored while her newborn napped all day. Perhaps she’d brush up on her French, remodel a few rooms, or maybe learn to quilt? Now a mom of two active boys, she is wiser, and has learned the fine art of typing a research paper at 1:30 am while nursing a baby, and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to laugh at her pre-baby image of life as a mother

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8 Comments

  1. I love this topic and what great visuals of you as a kid! What I struggle with is the fact that my kids constantly want me involved. When they draw with chalk, they want me to create things for them. When they are in the backyard, they want me there directing their play. I really want them to be able to create games and play on their own. Any suggestions on how to do that without being considered a distracted parent?

    • Oh, this is the same in my home too. And frankly, most times I REALLY don’t want to play! What works for me (when I remember) is to give them some time playing with me for a little bit and then I can go off and do my own thing ~ and I tell them that’s my plan.

      Our hose is their favorite plaything ~ they make rivers, streams and waterfalls and give ants rides on leaves. lol!

      • bernhardsonbunch

        Kate- I always feel bad thinking that but I am with you. I don’t want to! I want them to play, unassisted, so I can have some “quiet” time to get my own things done. I can only take playing “little birds in a nest” so long before I lose it :) Oh- and the hose is a big favorite here, too!

      • Same here. I don’t actually want to play with them. I do feel badly thinking that…but I have zero memories of my parents playing with me when I was a kid.

    • bernhardsonbunch

      Hahaha- I was fortunate (I think??) to grow up with all boys. Playing inside was never an option. I realized in hindsight I really didn’t do any of the stereotypical girl things as a kid. Nate certainly has days where he has a really, really hard time playing on his own. He wants me to be involved, and sometimes, I’m just not in the mood. It’s hard to fake it if you’re not feeling like it. What sometimes helps him go off and do his own thing is if I give him something open ended to use- a giant bowl of water, some dish soap and an old sponge, for example- which will turn into something on his own. Sometimes it works beautifully and sometimes it just isn’t the right time and he’s still following me around…haha :)

  2. I LOVE Wisdom Wednesdays!!!! :) Another great post!

  3. kukla1211

    It’s sad to say, but I don’t play with my kids. I let them play on their own all the time. My daughter says, “Mom come play with me” to which I answer, “Play with your brother, that’s why we had him” LOL (No, that’s not why we had him, but you know what I mean). When I was young and use to tell me mom I was bored, her reply to me was “Do you need me to dance for you.” I knew to go and figure out something fun to do on my own. I want to encourage my kids to use their imagination and not to rely on me.

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  1. Wisdom Wednesday | CTWorkingMoms - [...] few weeks back, I wrote about the importance of true free play…play that is completely child-driven and free from …

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