This is one of the best descriptions of the power of pretend play, especially dissecting how pretend play is hard work, and can be overwhelming, especially to someone who doesn’t have practice, which is why lots of play is important for practicing real-world feelings and situations like power, restraint, and questioning assumed priors.
Power is intoxicating.
It is also dangerous.
And it is especially dangerous when applied to four-year-olds.
Four-year-olds lack the experience to wield power responsibly. They have no idea what to do with it or how to control it.
The dinosaur costume was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me.
…All I knew was that being a dinosaur felt very different from being a person, and I was doing things that I had never even dreamed of doing before. …Of course, I had always had the ability to do these things — even as a person — but I didn’t know that. I’d just assumed that I was unable. As a dinosaur, I didn’t have any of those assumptions. It felt like I could do whatever I wanted without fear of repercussions.
This weekend, take a look around to see if you see any kids running or biking around in your neighborhood. Children playing, or not playing, can be seen as a litmus test for overall neighborhood health. Yes physical health, but also the cultural and economic health.
Neighborhoods are suffering these days largely because children are absent. Instead of playing in their neighborhoods, they’re either staring at screens eight hours a day, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study!, doing lots of homework, or attending numerous adult-led activities outside their neighborhoods.How are the children faring with these differently structured lives?They’re suffering, too, perhaps even worse. Pretty much every pediatrician and child psychologist will tell you that children need to play outside, every day. Without frequent outdoor play, children have been getting fatter, sadder, and less socially adept, and all that homework isn’t making them any smarter.
Children’s immediate neighborhoods—right on their block, outside their front door—are the ideal places for them to play outside. These are the safest, most comfortable places for children outside their homes because they can stay within earshot of their parents, and they can also get to know dozens of neighbors.
When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.
The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
Sadly the doctor is correct that many schools refuse to change a child’s environment to improve academic success, namely that they are cutting out activities like recess and P.E. in order to make more time for studying.
However, P.E., recess, and just getting outside for a quick breath of fresh air have all shown to also be extremely effective ways to improve attention and academic success. Yet because these activities are getting cut out of the school day, doctor’s feel like they must prescribe these incredibly strong, brain-chemistry changing medications to growing brains, many of these drugs with strong side effects .
I have no problem with using these drugs for what they were originally intended for, but prescribing them basically as “performance-enhancing” drugs just seems unethical to me. We frown upon athletes and grown-ups in the business world from taking speed and other kinds of drugs that are supposed to improve performance (other than coffee of course, that seems pretty much like a must-have for adults), but it’s okay for students so they can do well in elementary and middle school? To put in mildly, yuck!
I hope other people will be as outraged as I am and stand up for a child’s right to recess and P.E., and actually NOT studying from time to time, rather than encouraging giving them strong medications in order to perform well on standardized tests.
While summer may just be getting into full swing in my neck of the woods, it’s almost over for most everyone else (*sob!*). It seems everyone is trying to take advantage of a few last weekends of summer before school starts back up. But for some kids, that is a lot harder than it sounds. Free Range Kids recently posted about separate instances of a mom and a dad getting in trouble for letting their kids play outside unattended.
Today the police visited my home after one of my neighbors called in about my children being outside alone…in our yard with a home on two sides and six foot fence on the other two sides. The officer said, “Don’t have me called back out.” So now, do I have to go outside with my children every time they go out? I have a chronic illness and sitting outside all day sucks for me. They love being outside. They come in for bathroom breaks, they come in to tattle, they come in to say “I Love You”… they are in and out every 5-10 minutes. I check on them anytime I pass the door, and I lay or sit next to an open window. If I call for them, they come to the door/window and answer as a “check in.” They will literally stay outside from wake up to 9 pm, when I force them to come in, with breaks for the above and for food. They were perfectly safe. I don’t know what to do.
Dear Lenore: A neighbor of mine called the Texas CPS (Child Protective Services) and the Police on my wife and I because we allow our children, ages 6 and 8, to play in the courtyard directly in front of our apartment. CPS has been investigating my family since April 4th 2012, it is now August 12 2012, and all they have come up with is the one report to Police about my 6-year-old being outside in front of his home. Now we are dealing with the courts in a “Negligent Supervision” case, which makes absolutely no sense because my child wasn’t hurt or asking anyone for help. I was outside with my son when the Police arrived, but the CPS caseworker insists that I take drug tests and parenting classes. People are not neighbors anymore, they are just @$$holes. – A Texas Dad
Unfortunately the Free Range Kids blog has waaaay too many examples of this kind of reaction from authorities.
I find this really concerning, since we’re basically telling children they can’t be responsible for themselves when parents are trying to teach their children independence and responsibility, we’re not allowing them unstructured play time which is crucial for learning and brain development, that it is a way more dangerous world out there than it really is, AND it discourages them from exploring and getting exposure to nature and natural sunlight, both things that are crucial for growing bodies.
Why are children no longer allowed to play in their own front yards? I’m sorry if this comes off as a rant, but I feel not letting children play outside and learn on their own is a serious problem if we are simultaneously so concerned about “winning” the education race against other nations.
Aside from yelling at CPS and the police, what can we do as concerned citizens, either with children or without, to encourage and enable children to play outside and allow parents to let their children roam a little bit freer and get the unstructured, unsupervised play time they need in order to develop normally? Ideas welcome in the comments below.
From the blog Art Farm, a play/art therapist who offers some advice on creating spaces that encourage kids to explore, learn and play:
I really learned the importance of organizing and preparing spaces while working with youth in school settings in several public housing developments in Chicago. So often these youth would come to me (for either individual or group art therapy sessions) filled with anxieties which either manifested as acting out or withdrawn behaviors. The arrangement and presentation of the private space we used was a powerful, non-verbal message to them stating that all things are respected here – including you; everything has a place here – including you; and everything you will need to have a successful experience is here – starting with you.
[Mariah] Bruehl offers some questions to ask when designing a space for your own child:
Can your child access the materials in the play space independently? Are they organized in baskets or bins that are clearly labeled so your child knows how and where to put things away when finished with them?
Are the materials presented in an attractive manner that invites your child to use them?
Do the materials, toys, and games represent a balance between your child’s and your own preferences? Do they represent what you value and thus encourage your child to engage in activities that you feel good about?
What is your child currently interested in? If your child no longer plays with dinosaurs, but has been talking a lot about birds, make sure that the play space reflects this current passion. Rotating toys is a great way to keep your child interested in play space activities and ultimately prolongs the life of your child’s playthings. It never ceases to amaze me how excited my girls get about a toy that comes back into rotation. The nostalgia they feel toward a toy they have not seen in a while is almost more than their delight over a brand-new toy.
Is the play space a calming environment that allows one to focus on the task at hand without distracting colors, decorations, or objects?
Are you seeing things from you child’s perspective? Put yourself in your child’s shoes to determine the right height for displaying and storing materials and hanging art.
Is this a space that makes you want to make art, explore science, write stories, and more? If so, would you have everything you need to do what you want to do? What else would you add to enrich and deepen your child’s learning experience in the play space?
What other playful space researchers are out there? Any recommendations? I know about the organization Art With Heart, which focuses on creating therapeutic resources for sick kids. But I’d love to hear more about what’s out there. Let me know in the comments below.
Happy Friday! I hope you get a chance to go out and play this weekend. Speaking of play, here is another great find from Milan’s Design week (remember the edible mini furniture from earlier this week?). This exhibit of design focused specifically on children’s spaces, with a focus that was very playful, creative, and also a great idea for grown-ups to incorporate into their own environments.
Students from the HDK master program Child Culture Design created an exhibit to explore new ways of bringing play into everyday objects to help foster imagination and creativity. Dubbed “Play In Progress“, the exhibit was one of our favorites at the Salone Mobile.
Check out more great designs at Inhabitat (I love the block table, for example!)
This call for paper submissions from the The Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past got me thinking about how actively children used to participate in the daily household and economic life of families, from general maintenance like sweeping the kitchen to vital income by helping during harvest time. Children used to have to help out on the farm, and later work in factories, in order to help their families make ends meet. While some of the work was dangerous and unhealthy, some of the work was beneficial to both the kid and the family. Kids felt like they contributed to their family, and learned skills from farming to general entrepreneurship. I wonder what kids are missing out on by not having as many daily chores to do, or summer jobs like mowing lawns and lemonade stands, and how children fit into our idea of work now.
In 2011, the themed session will be on children and work. The aim of the themed papers will be to bring together scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines who are studying any aspect of children and work in the past – children as economic contributors, children as slaves, elite children taking on adult roles, children as carers, children as consumers, the impact of working in childhood on children and society. The aim will be to advance cross-cultural knowledge and understanding of childhood and children in the past, and in particular to evaluate the varying nature and impact – social, economic, cultural, medical – of work performed by or for children in the past. Archaeology, history, literature and other sources will be explored.
In providing this opportunity for scholars of childhood to present their work to an international, interdisciplinary audience, the SSCIP International Conference aims to generate new perspectives on existing knowledge and to stimulate new avenues of research for the future.
I’d be interested to hear what jobs you had growing up, before the age of 18. Did your parents encourage you to work? Did you get an allowance or did you get paid by the job, or were you just expected to “earn your keep”? How is it different with your own kids, or nieces and nephews?
I am a little worried it was supposed to be released more than a year ago and I can’t find any updates, but…
Play All Day documents a collection of the most vibrant, stimulating and engaging design products and concepts for children. This book sets a new standard of design for children with fascinating examples of innovative and well-designed toys, playgrounds and play environments, room decorations, wall coverings, furniture and kindergarten architecture. In addition to these products, it also presents illustration and photography as well as new and original ideas offering playful solutions that talented designers and creative parents are designing for and with their kids. It is an inspiring reference for design-savvy parents and other professionals.
Pesticides used in industrial farming, lawns, and other urban greenery have been linked to all sorts of child development health issues, and now a study is suggesting one more. A study released in the May issue of Pediatrics Journal argues that there’s a connection between high exposure to common pesticides and increased risk for children developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
Maryse Bouchard and colleagues looked at more than 1,100 children aged between 8 and 15. All of them had been sampled by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2000 and 2004, and 119 had been diagnosed with ADHD. Bouchard’s team studied their urine samples for chemicals called dialkyl phosphates, which result from the breakdown of organophosphate pesticides used to protect fruits and vegetables.
For a 10-fold increase in one class of those compounds, the odds of ADHD increased by more than half. And for the most common breakdown product, called dimethyl triophosphate, the odds of ADHD almost doubled in kids with above-average levels compared to those without detectable levels [Reuters].