I don't think kids play like I used to.
I was that kid who ran home from the bus, opened up the door to my home, threw my backpack in the house, yelled "hi" and "bye" to my mom, jumped on my bike and was off to find a new adventure. I was that kid who would be out playing and exploring with friends. None of us had a phone, or a watch, we just went home when the streetlights came on or when we got hungry.
I can remember running through old lumberyards and building sites to collect discarded wood so we could then drag it through the bush to the place where we would build our tree fort. I remember the excitement of welcoming a new classmate to the school where inevitably the first questions we would ask were "Hey, do you play hockey? Wanna join our street hockey game?" I can also remember hearing about a new park opening up on the other side of town, grabbing our bikes and riding there. It must have taken us an hour and a half each way.
I knew what a “soaker” was – you know, when you get too close to the water (or mud) and step in too deep only to have your rubber boot fill up. In those days of my youth I got hurt, lost, trapped, scared, and embarrassed. I even remember the floorboards of our tree fort giving way and dangling by one arm from a tree branch so high up that I probably would have died if I'd fallen. Some days, I would even just ride to Canadian Tire and go to the sports counter and just stare at the Wrist Rocket behind the glass as if it was the coolest, most desired prize on the planet.
I don’t think my own kids do any of that. It makes me sad, and it makes me feel like I have failed somewhat as a parent for not providing them with those opportunities. But then again, isn’t that the problem?
I think in some ways, we as parents (yes, I’m throwing some of you under the bus too) spend too much time trying to find the right opportunities for our kids. We shuttle them to play dates from the earliest age. We enroll them in athletics and music lessons and if they’re really good at it we ask them to do it more, and if they’re not good at it we often allow them to choose another activity to see if that will go better. We manage their time, their schedules, and their passions. Where is their voice and independence?
This week I was asked to consider play, and the role it plays in education. It seems like a logical fit - kids, schools, engagement. When you add the words wonder, curiosity, and imagination, it seems like play just has to be an integral part of what we do. However, part of me just doesn’t understand the where and the how. I’m torn, because part of me wants to just go for it, but the other part of me says, “how can I timetable that?” When that part of me starts talking I feel like I do as a parent and the inevitable rub is that there just isn’t enough time for that in the day. There is just too much to do. Of course, that’s not the right response.
I know my exploration is still underway. I also see the ironical side of trying to reconcile play, because natural play should just exist without the need to schedule it or check it off on a to-do list. What I do know is that play needs to be a part of what we do in schools, and that I want my own kids, and my students, to experience the beauty and tragedy of the “soaker”.
I would love to hear your memories and thoughts about play. Do you feel the same? Have you found a good balance? How does play fit in your own life, and in your role as parent and/or educator? Please feel free to reply and comment.
The image I used above is a screen capture from a video I was introduced to this week. It’s a child experiencing rain for the first time. Check out the video here, and turn the sound off for better effect. I think it’s a great way to think about the beauty of play. Follow my colleagues and their work using #CBEplay
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.