iscussion and visioning process concerning Columbus communities’ Future Recreation Needs and ResourcesMarch 2, 2009
FLOW Adopt an Area Information MeetingMarch 3, 2009
Reprinted from ChildCareExchange.com
The Fear of Play
Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The March issue of Exchange, which is now on its way to subscribers around the world, features a Beginnings Workshop section with four articles on the challenges of play, including one by Joan Almon, “The Fear of Play,” from which the excerpt below comes and which can be viewed in its entirety on the Exchange web site.
“Real play ‘” play that is initiated and directed by children and that bubbles up from within the child rather than being imposed by adults ‘” has largely disappeared from the landscape of childhood in the United States. There are many reasons for this, such as the long hours spent in front of screens each day or in activities organized by adults. In addition, preschools and kindergartens that used to foster meaningful play and exploration often spend long hours on adult-led instruction instead.
“All of these are the outer manifestations of something deeper ‘” a modern mindset that does not value play and is even afraid of it. Some fears are easy to identify. People freely admit they are afraid of accidents in play and want to minimize risk. Yet playgrounds that offer genuine risk, such as Berkeley’s adventure playground, where children build two-story play structures with hammers and nails, tend to have fewer accidents than traditional playgrounds. Give children real risk and they rise to it; they learn how to handle it. Give them sanitized play spaces, and children often are less conscious of risk and have accidents, or take outlandish risks for the sheer excitement of it all.
“There is also a widespread fear of ‘˜stranger danger.’ Most parents will not let their elementary-age children go out unattended. Yet most crimes against children, such as abduction or abuse, are perpetrated by people the family knows rather than strangers on the playground.
“These are the easily recognized fears. There are underlying fears that are harder to describe.
“The current mindset in the U.S. leads us to create a life that is as safe and risk-free as possible. We want life to be ultra-organized, and we want to be in charge at all times. We’re taught from early on that life should be rational and measurable. No wonder people love to see young children sitting still and working on worksheets or at computer screens. It’s so tidy compared to play, which is messy, not only physically but also emotionally.
“In play, the full range of human feelings and longings surfaces at one time or another, some of which are not very beautiful and can even be a bit scary. In addition, play is hard to track or assess. It wanders in and out of different realities like dreams. It may start out looking familiar, but will often go into deeper realms that are not easily understood. Play is full of symbols and metaphors. It has some elements that seem familiar and arise from our everyday life, but in the next moment it is full of magical thinking. It is a way of perceiving the world that is reminiscent of fairy tales and myths. It is the antithesis of didactic teaching and scripted lessons, which are highly predictable, although their outcomes tend to be much weaker than promised.”