Monday 18 February 2013

What happened to play?

I have been talking with my 12 year old daughters about school breaks and what they do then - it turns out that they don't do much as most of their friends play games on their i-phones or are watching the latest installment of some TV series. My girls do not have i-phones which means they get to WATCH others play.

I remember when I was that age - well between 10 and 14 there was an awful lot of playing going on a break time. (There was plenty of play before that time too!!)

Very often we role-played together - instead of watching TV programmes we acted them out, developing the story-line to suit our thought processes. In my early teens break time was consumed by running around the school with walkie talkies in teams looking for clues we planted for each other and trying to catch each other for more clues (although I have no memory of what it was we were looking for) - the school was big and had many ways around it so the walkie talkies made it easier to collaborate to catch the other team. We had come up with the game ourselves and defined the rules ourselves. It was also great that we had a long lunch break - over an hour. My girls get 40 minutes break including the time they need to eat (once a week they get 55 minutes) - this is not enough to allow them to develop their play together.

Right now my son is sitting with his arms crossed and his bottom lip pouting - "what! you got such a long break - that's not fair - I want a long break too". His lunch break is 50 minutes including eating time.

Michael plays at break time - building, role play, bug hunting, exploring - football is not popular as he feels that the boys that are good at football don't care about passing to everyone and only care about winning - this makes it boring "as even my own team take the ball away from me". In Michael's class the mobile phones are handed in at the start of the day - they are in "mobile daycare" as my daughters say. They wish there was a mobile daycare for all the i-phones in their class too.

Is it because Michael is younger that there is more play during his break time? - or is it due to the mobile phones limiting the play? or maybe even that the breaks are too short?

How detrimental is it that my 12 year olds do not have access to the play that I had as a child? Should I be worried for their future? If children are glued to their phones during school, what do they do in their free-time? When are they playing? Are they playing? What do we mean by playing?

Sure, we might need to redefine what play is - for me this blog is a kind of play - my brain gets to play with thoughts and ideas. But often our image of child's play is that of children interacting with each other, with nature, with their toys, with art - child's play feels creative, free, natural. I think this is why there is often the feeling that computers, nintendos, i-phones and the likes do not feel like "real play" because they are designed and made by adults, to be played in a certain way - and there is certainly not a natural feel about them... do we need to redefine play? Or do we reclaim play?

Was I, and my friends, unusual to be playing for so long?
Or is 12 the new 16 when you are just to "cool" to play?

 I want to reclaim play,  for my children - to give them the time, the space and the opportunities to play. I want them to keep in touch with their inner-child.


  1. Suzanne!

    I feel the same way. My children are 4 and 6 and still play a lot. But they also do like to watch youtube videos and mister rogers and sesame street. i'm so grateful when they just get deep into play and emerge one, two, five or ten hours later. It can take so long to really get in deep. And I'm grateful that they have neighbors their age who they play deeply with afterschool and on the weekends. I see so many kids going to soccer and other parent-led activities on the weekend and I feel that they already have such limited play time that I hate to take even more away.

    Their relationships with peers are really truncated when they can't get into deep play with them. My daughter really yearns for longer recess and I'm right there behind her. My feeling is that so few parent truly value play.

    I think it is a school responsibility to educate parents about the importance of play....of course most schools don't value it in the first place.

    Thanks for the post.

    I'm looking forward to Peter Gray's new book coming out next month FREEDOM TO LEARN that is about the importance of play and child-led learning.


    1. I agree play requires time for it to deepen and for the children to really develop it and grow with it - otherwise its juts a time filler - a good one - but not the same quality as long play.

      My concern is that if my children are not playing at school - and there are no children round and about after school - because either they go to a whole load of sport clubs etc, or there is the fear of letting your children out on the streets etc etc - then when will they get this deeper play?

      I will keep an eye out for the book - thank you for the tip!

    2. it's a huge going to after school programs and homework! both steal the child's time to play. and it is SERIOUS because play does a lot for children. Susan told us just why make believe play is so damned important for a a child’s emotional, social intelligence and health. It is through make believe that children

      Problem solve
      Think constructively
      Wrestle with life
      Make meaning of their world

      so if that is being taken away from them, how do they learn these essential life skills?

      drives me crazy!

    3. don't even get me started on homework!!!

      If its meaningful - sure....

      yes, I feel the same, I think society today is robbing children of the opportunity to learn essential life skills - life skills that must be learned through play.

  2. I reflect wistfully on my own childhood, my friends and I played "out" whenever we could. We swam in the river (which was dirty) and to get to the river we had to cross a railway track and yes our parents knew where we were going. At school there was less time to play and the morning and afternoon breaks were 15 minutes and lunchtime was an hour (including eating time). We rode our bikes and walked to and from school, I remember vividly the day my friend and I arrived home from school 2 hours late having walked a different way and found interesting (and naughty) things to do - we were in trouble that day! I have tried to ensure that my children had the opportunity to play "out" I know that my own philosophy was not always appreciated by my peers. However I have now have three young adult "children" all of whom have a sense of adventure and can hold an interesting conversation...........we didn't have any electronic video/computer games in our house until out eldest was 15 years old. I worry about the way that the general public view "safety", we cannot continue to wrap our children up in cotton wool - I wish I had the answers. Unfortunately unadulterated play, the kind that children do where ever they are is free - and free doesn't sell advertising does it!

  3. I've just been having a conversation with my 8 year old who says nobody plats like her in America. In England she played fairies or other imaginative play, here they only play ball games.
    I think children here are encouraged to grow up too soon. It isn't cool to be imaginative. It worries me.

    1. My 8 year old is totally into imaginative play too - and luckily he does have friends that will join him in his adventures at school - in fact the teachers tell me his play is popular and many enjoy participating in the imaginative play with him.

      I think it is a concern when imaginative play is not viewed as cool - when even 8 year olds are mini adults - seems to indicate there is too much focus on academics and not enough TIME given to play - probable not enough RESPECT given to play either....