Are Over-Structured Kids Forgetting How to Play?

Written by Wes Walker on February 28, 2014

Like so many other things in the last 50 years, childhood has undergone an overhaul.

Stories of neighborhood kids getting together for a spontaneous game of ball have begun to seem alien to us, “quaint”, even.

Sure, that probably happened “in the olden days”, just not in our modern, fast-paced world.  Today, many parks so carefully designed (and occasionally rebuilt with newer, stricter safety standards) sit silent and unused.  The kids aren’t there.

These days, we’ve got soccer practice, dance recitals, after-school care, day camp, summer camp, karate, piano, swimming, gymnastics or a host of other gotta-get-to-the-next-one activities.  We’re frantically jumping from one to the next, trying to squeeze in a good meal in along the way.

Add in all the modern complications that are crowding out once-normative intact two-parent families, and I don’t even know how anyone can keep up.

But there is a price being paid and, as usual, it’s the kids picking up the tab.

As reported by Justina Reichel, the price they are paying is substantial — they are forgetting how to play. Is forgetting how to play serious? You bet:

“We’re starting to see that kids don’t know how to play,” [health and physical education consultant Sharon Seslija] says, noting that play—particularly unsupervised outdoor play—has an important role in children’s development.

This lack of outdoor playtime may be affecting childhood development, according to experts.

Studies show that in addition to the physical benefits of exercise, outdoor play and exposure to the natural world or “green space” has a number of cognitive, emotional, and social development benefits.

Play has been shown to improve and foster motor function, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving, social skills, control emotions, and helps develop speech in preschoolers. It also allows youngsters to try new things, test boundaries, and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment.

It looks like our parents and grandparents, with their “don’t come back until suppertime” approach really did know what was best for us.