How to get kids playing again: Make play appealing

A teacher’s take on letting kids play, Pt.2

Your child doesn’t play outside much, because he ‘doesn’t want to’? Well that’s just too bad. Let’s come up with some ideas to get that kid off his butt and out to get some Vitamin-D…

In A teacher’s take on letting kids play… I wrote about the decline in self-guided, outdoors play for children. A recent comment from a parent of one of my students has me feeling quite frustrated. The mother commented in passing that, “[My son] doesn’t just go outside and play much – he’d rather play Minecraft.” Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that I bit my tongue and opted not to ask, “Um, so who was it that bought him the iPad, downloaded the game and allows him to spend so much time engaging in such a sedentary activity?” Don’t get me wrong, technology is great and I have nothing against iPads, Minecraft, or even letting kids have some downtime, but…
Her comments made me realise that in that above-mentioend blog post, I had forgotten one key thing that we as adults can do to get kids playing again. Here’s the simple advice I gave her.

1) Make play appealing.

Imagine sitting a kid down in a chair, at a table with nothing on it, and asking that child to go wild, have fun. You wouldn’t, would you? Perhaps we slightly over-estimate the ability of children to just make things up as they go along. Sure, they are endlessly creative, innovative and imaginative, but at the end of the day, if the prospects are to go outside alone and try to figure out a game to play that will keep themselves entertained enough, with resources that are either missing or that they don’t know how to use, versus plonking down for some screen-time to play a game that they know is guaranteed fun (such as Minecraft – my students don’t shut up about it!) or to watch their favourite show; it’s no real surprise that many kids will choose the latter.

Kids are becoming such un-skilled ‘players’, that I’ve been taking my own grade outside during class time, to help them learn new games, teaching them games to play alone, in small groups or big groups. Helping them learn what you can do with various materials ranging from the traditional (balls, skipping ropes, etc.) to those which require a little more imagination (eg. what can we do with 2 old tyres, some paper and pencils, a length of rope and some sticks?). As a teacher, I wouldn’t just say to my young students, “Go ahead, do math!” So why should I expect them to just go outside at recess and instinctively know what to do? Let alone, figuring out how to have fun by themselves when they’re sent out to play in their own backyard.

Make play appealing by giving a few ideas, perhaps teaching them some games and actually playing outside with them if they’re not one to do so independently. Model yourself, how exciting play can be. Show kids that you love and value play.

Further to that, my original list comprised four other factors…
2) Provide children with the time to play.
That is, don’t over-schedule kids. Even allow them to get bored as that will force them to truly direct their own play.
3) Provide children with the space and freedom to play.
Obviously this is dependent on where you live and safety must be a priority, but maybe we could loosen the harness.
4) Provide children with the resources to play.
For example, construction materials, balls, scooters, sketch pads, rather than iPhones or DVDs. Don’t spend a fortune – You can find most things for free in council throw-outs, or get things on-the-cheap at charity stores.
5) Leave the rest to them! Don’t assume we know what’s best.
Let children make friends with the kids that they want and play the games that they want.

There’s been a bunch of great articles written on the importance of play. It’s a no-brainer, really, but if you’d like to read about why our young people should be out in the sunshine, getting grubby and active, here are some good places to start:
• ‘Why Our Children Need to Get Outside and Engage With Nature‘ (The Guardian)
• ‘Over-protected, Over-organised… Why Kids Needs More Time to Run and Play‘ (The Sydney Morning Herald)
• ‘The Play Deficit‘ (Aeon Magazine)
• ‘All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed‘ (The Atlantic)

Teachling <Twitter>

Let Kids Be Kids pt.2

A teacher’s take on letting kids play…

“Play is what children do, when afforded the independence, opportunity, time and space to determine their own behaviour.” (Play For Life)

I almost called this post “A teacher’s take our ‘nanny society’, and why we seem so bent on destroying childhoods”, but then I thought it sounded too ‘preachy’. Anyway…

Everyone loves to reminisce on their time spent as a kid, riding bikes around the suburbs, playing impromptu sport championships in the streets, daydream of building an insanely cool tree-house and having a good hard crack at turning that dream into a reality, failing miserably but still loving it, having hobbies that we chose for ourselves, coming home after dark and fearing the wrath of your parents, making friends with anyone and everyone, always being able to find something to do on the weekend; loving every second of our freedom!

Let’s fast forward 20 years and see our current kids reflect on, um, rushing home from school and sitting on the couch and swiping away at their iPhones. We can’t blame them, though. Afterall, who is it that buys them their gadgets, restricts their freedom, schedules their lives to the minute, chooses their hobbies for them, ‘nanny’ them, ‘helicopter’? I’ve blogged previously about helicopter parenting and taking away freedom with over-scheduling, but what about taking away play?

Play is actually disappearing at a horrifying rate from childrens’ lives. Just think geographically for a moment. 40 years ago, children would stray far and wide from their home. Go to the beach or to a movie with a few friends and shock horror, no adults. Miles from home, building and crashing billy-carts and getting up to who-knows-what. 20 years ago, kids couldn’t get away with quite so much mischief, but could still hop on their bikes and feel free and safe to roam their local streets, meet up with pals and make sure they we home by dark. Now many children would not even be allowed outside of their own fence without their parent! Parents of young children, would you allow you child to get away with the far-reaching play that you spent your childhood doing? Certainly, you wouldn’t let them get up to the kind of play that your parents got up to. Gee, now that would just be downright bonkers, right? But honestly, why not?

The reduced role of play in childhoods is becoming such as epidemic in today’s nanny society that organisitions such as Play For Life are trying to actively get kids playing again. You know, real playing!  Using their imaginations, innovating, designing and making, cooperative play, socialising, experimenting and making mistakes, creating, physical play, outdoors play – the kind of play that is essential to learning.

As adults, what can we do?
We can provide children with the time to play. That is, don’t over-schedule kids. Even allow them to get bored as that will force them to truly direct their own play.
We can provide children with the space and freedom to play. Obviously this is dependent on where you live and safety must be a priority, but maybe we could loosen the harness.
We can provide children with the resources to play. For example, construction materials, balls, scooters, sketch pads, rather than iPhones or DVDs.
Leave the rest to them! Don’t assume we know what’s best. Let children make friends with the kids that they want and play the games that they want.

At the school I teach at, children aren’t allowed to bring swap cards to school in case they get upset over a ‘bad swap’. In other words, the kids aren’t resilient and we’re not doing them any favours by pandering to them. Kids aren’t allowed to play with sticks in case they use them as a weapon. In other words, the kids aren’t accustomed to physical play, but instead of teaching them how to play, we’re banning them from any rough-and-tumble in case someone gets hurt. No running is allowed on the quad in case someone falls over and scrapes their knees on the bitumen. In other words, we’re wrapping them in cotton wool instead of allowing them to discover their own limits. Yes, the list of things that children are allowed to do is getting smaller and in doing that, we’re taking away vital opportunities for them to learn, grow, be happy and make memories.

Let’s see non-adult-directed play re-enter childrens’ lives. Let’s give children the time, space, freedom and resources to play.

Still not convinced?  >>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt7DoWmahu0 <<< (Language warning!)