March 16, 2009

spring training

Over the weekend I watched a CTV documentary called "Lost Adventures of Childhood." It featured interviews with writers and thinkers such as Carl Honore (author of Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper Parenting) and Hara Estroff Marano (Editor in Chief of Psychology Today and author of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting.)

After showing footage of over scheduled, hyper-parented children, the conclusion was clear - a society without time or respect for free play results in a world filled with people plagued by indecisiveness and the inability to be creative and think outside the box.

One of the most telling studies cited in the program was one in which a specialist in organized sports and activities took a school basketball team (boys aged around 11) to a public outdoor court and asked them to play a pick up game of hoops. After a bit of shuffling around, (it seemed difficult for them to begin without direction from an adult) they finally began to play. In the end, the ones who took hold of the moment and put their all into it, weren't the kids who had been the "stars" of the team, but were the boys who had been sitting on the bench most of the season. Suddenly the pressure was off. Without a coach or parents yelling at them from the sidelines they were finally free to step outside of the roles they had been assigned and take risks.

"Play both demands and inspires mental dexterity. Play makes us nimble, capable of adapting to a rapidly evolving world. In making our brain circuits more flexible, play prompts us to see the world in new ways." - Hara Estroff Marano on "The Value of Play"

The other day I hit a wall in my writing. No matter what I tried (pacing, index cards, doodling, sticky notes, talking out loud to my main character,) I couldn't figure out what should happen next in the tale. The weather was nice enough that I decided to give up for the day and get out of the studio. I invited my family to join me for a walk on the beach.

"What will we do there?" My eight-year-old son demanded.
"I don't know." I shrugged. "Let's just go."

We scaled the ridge of ice that's still hunched on the shore. We kicked around for interesting rocks. Seaweed got piled up in great monster-like heaps and then defeated by knights with driftwood clubs.

My husband took an old Pinky ball out of his pocket and began to toss it around. Soon, one of the pieces of driftwood became a bat, pitches were thrown across a stony homeplate and line drives were batted along the retreating tide.

We laughed and ran and caught new freckles on our cheeks. After we returned home and ate supper, I took my notebook in hand and settled into a quiet corner. I stared at the page where I'd been stuck earlier in the day. Before long, I picked up my pen and put line after line down on the page, easy and free. I guess writers need to play too.
What will you do to "play" today?


Lisa said...

I'll bet if you asked young kids if they liked playing on their organized sports teams or at recess better, most of them would say they prefer recess.

Marta said...

I love it when my son says, "Come on, mom. Let's try and see what happens."

meli-mello said...

My life is rather weird at the moment because I feel like I spend most of the day "playing". I have an 11-month old daughter and the fact that she is very busy coupled with my total disregard for housework means I spend a lot of the time on the floor playing with her. Part of me wishes our days were a little more structured but another part of me mentally kicks myself every time I think that because really when else will I get this opportunity?

nicole said...

Love this blog!
My children are now 19, 17 and
12.When they were little, I couldn't afford organized activities, and so we spent a good portion of their childhood having "unstructured adventures," aka playing. Thank God we did! They love that time, I love that time, and I will never regret it. They are 3 amazingly creative young ladies.

meli-mello said...

Oops - I meant to comment about something else but your question at the end led me off topic. What I wanted to say was this: both my husband & I grew up with overscheduled childhoods. By the time I was in junior high it was piano, trumpet, violin, choir and ski racing (ask me how many instruments I can play: ZERO). Anyway, I was heading for a nervous breakdown and by high school I quit everything but choir & piano - the two things I actually enjoyed. I don't blame my parents, I wanted to do all of those things and they wanted to give me everything they didn't have. My husband was in the same boat (we actually met in the semi-pro choir we were in during high school) and we both agree that our children won't be dabblers in all and masters of none and we won't be driving from one end of the city to the other everyday. I'm exhausbted just thinking about it.

grits said...

playday for me was yesterday. We played alot of Wii, weaved on a loom, played outside with the dogs and got chinese take-out.

today is laundry and housework - (after I finish my coffee and play a few pogo games lol)

My daughter plays soccer. Seems like all her other friends do all the other sports, dance, girl scouts and some kind of instrument lessons.

We both know she gets too overwhelmed if there is one more thing other than school involved, so she isnt interested and we are both happy.

Love This Life said...

Sweeping generalizations and veiled put downs of public school children and parents... It just floors me... kids are happy playing, regardless of what and how... its the adults that need to dissect, worry and helicopter around them that makes them unhappy... as George Carlin said: "if you want happy kids, leave them the hell alone"... homelearners don't have it any better or any worse - just different (please trust me on this as I have tried it both ways)...we have to let them swim... some structured play isn't a bad thing. Open your eyes wide -- see all the possibilities for them and just remember 'our children are not our children, they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself' (Gibran)... Peace be with you all.... Trust your kids are happy, just love 'em.

Ami said...

I went back and read my post again, just to be sure...

School? Who said anything about school?
(Yes, at the bottom of the post there's a topic tag of "unschooling" along with "creativity, parenting, play and the writing life" but that's just because I thought people interested in those topics might be interested in this post.)

I would never presume to judge the choices parents make when it comes to schooling, homeschooling, unschooling etc. Every family, every child and every parent is different. What works for some might not work for others. Parenting is hard.

The post was meant to tell readers a bit about the documentary I'd watched and how it had inspired me to think about the value of unstructured play in life. (In the lives of adults as well as children.)

Unstructured play can happen anywhere, in and out of school. Organized sports and other activities also happen everywhere - in and out of school.

Let me be clear, my thoughts were only about the importance of fostering creativity and creative thinking through unstructured play.

I agree, structured activity (wherever it takes place) is also important - but, in my opinion, an over-structured life that leaves no room for free time and flexibility is a recipe for disaster.

Cheryl Arkison said...

I would love to play today.
Thanks for this post. My daughter's birthday is coming up and after giving in to her request for a birthdya party I asked what she wanted to do at her party. "Just play." Such a smart three year old.
I'm stuck at my salaried desk job, but I think I might turn away from the computer and colour for a bit.

Andrea of Become a Consultant Blog said...

I stumbled upon this blog while taking a few moments out from family life and my business. I've been reading The Birth House in stolen moments. How lovely to find your blog and a post in support of unstructured play! My only lament is that I live in the city and it's nearly impossible to do playdates because all the other kids are in activities. The playground is devoid of kids during the day. As city dwellers, we have no yard, so I've had to succumb to a couple activities, since it's hard to provide for tons of solo unstructured play in a condo. But an adventure to the forest, beach or park is the best time ever. I only wish there were a few more people to join us.