I’m dead tired and sat down to write a few happy thoughts while watching a TV show online. One of the happinesses, as you’ll see when I post them, was in watching Cameron play without direction, without too much of a time limit, and only a little guidance.
Mom mentioned how important unstructured play time is to children’s development, possibly more important than all the structured lesson time they get in school. We sat on a driftwood log at the beach, watching Cameron stuff a sand-and-rock ‘house’ with at least sixteen rocks and shells he hopped over, calling them Santa, and giving each a unique Santa name. The only guidance I had given him, I think, was in building the house with four walls and a roof. This type of playtime is when he reinforces patterns he already learned, explores new ones, and creates with minimal judgment or interference. As I’ve mentioned before, I firmly believe that just as tiger cubs learn the hunting skills they need to survive in the wild by playing, creative play is how Cameron and other kids learn the tools they need to survive and be effective in our wild world. Free time for play is something that has come up in conversations with local parents frequently, and I’m quite glad that the parents of the kids Cameron spends the most time with outside of daycare are on a similar wavelength.
You never see kids in our neighbourhood just going to the playground or just riding their bikes. At an age where my friends and I as kids roamed the yards freely, “bye, be home for supper, say please and thank you,” was the parental attitude, and we were walking to and from school unchaperoned, these kids don’t seem to walk to the neighbour’s house without a parent guiding them.
The after-daycare or school activities are mind-boggling. I spoke with the mom of one sweet little four-and-a-half year old girl at the playgym the other week – I’ve known Lucy for some time, as she marched right up to me over a year ago and introduced herself. Lucy’s mom was talking about how she picks up her daughter after daycare and they’re off to classes – music, swimming, ballet, you name it. They’re looking at kindergartens and one appeals to them simply because it’s Monday to Thursday. Fridays are open for taking classes, and the mom sounded relieved as she didn’t know how she would fit it all in otherwise. My question: “All what?” Don’t misunderstand me, as I do plan to enroll Cameron in soccer this spring or summer, swimming classes when I can get him into the ones at the pool I want when it works for our schedule, and once he’s older music and perhaps a martial art. But not all at once. Not so that he’s scheduled to do something every single night and all day both weekend days as some families seem to start doing at around four.
Kids don’t even seem to play before school any more. I remember walking to school with friends, then hanging out playing until the bell rang to call us in. On our morning walk to the bus Cameron and I watch parents line up in cars and minivans to drop their kids, primary up through high school, off at school. The uniformed kids then are chaperoned inside by adults waiting for them, and if we’re running just a few minutes later we see structured games and sports, lineups to attend morning services (they are Catholic schools), and kids sitting in classrooms. Of course, you say? These are schools, after all. Yes, but before 8 am, when school starts at 8:45? Even at the primary level you don’t see kids just playing there, generally.
I don’t want to sound like I have my nose in the air, that my view is better. Except I guess I do feel that way. I mean, when do kids just play? Is the ever-shrinking recess play time adequate? Are cities today so much worse than they were when I was a child? Granted, we didn’t live in a city, but from what I hear even the suburbs are like this. Is free play a luxury only kids under three can afford? Is that sufficient play to ground them for their entire lives? Do the skills the kids are learning at these classes really enrich their lives and make that much of a difference to them as adults that it compensates for lost play time? I’d love to hear from other parents and educators on this one! Janice, you’re the expert that comes to my mind here!
This coming Saturday there is a TV show, Lost Adventures of Childhood, that I very much want to watch. I wish that CTV would post whether or not they’ll be placing it on their online viewing site – but since I have no TiVo here, and 7pm is not ideal TV watching time in our home, I’ll be figuring out how to set the VCR’s timer. Let’s see what Scott Harper, the producer and director, has to say on this matter.