Doug Robinson: Kids have lost the simple art of play

Published: Monday, Jan. 27 2014 8:40 p.m. MST

They didn’t need anyone to tell them what bikes or skateboards were for, either. Not that such toys were always necessary. They played with whatever was available — cans, pillows, rocks, sticks, little brothers, dogs, dirt, trees, hoses.

Nowadays, getting a kid to play is like getting him to practice the piano or clean the garage. Playing is a tough job, kids, but someone’s got to do it. Now they’re trying to squeeze a little play into their schedules between texting and Xboxing and iPadding and cell phoning and dancing/music/pitching lessons. If the movie “Sandlot” were made today, the kids would have personal coaches for hitting, pitching and weightlifting.

Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College, wrote a powerful essay in Aeon Magazine on the subject. He believes adults have been “chipping away” at children's' free play for 50 years “by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pickup’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised.” Gray believes the loss of free play impairs children intellectually and socially.

It's a strange state of affairs when kids have to be told to play. Maybe they don’t even know how to do it anymore.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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