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The End of Play

By Sierra Black |

235950645_664c9615ae_mThe New York Times ran a depressing op-ed over the weekend arguing that kids’ lives have changed to the point where they really need recess coaches to teach them how to play with each other.

The article focuses on the lost culture of childhood , the oral traditions of games, rhymes and superstitions that kids have been passing on to each other for hundreds of years. That culture, which includes nursery rhymes, hopscotch and warnings like “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” has basically disappeared over the course of a generation.

Kids stopped playing those games as they started moving indoors to watch TV, play video games and surf the web. Instead of teaching each other these traditions or making up new ones on their own, kids are increasingly passive consumers of entertainment.

Kids from ages 8 to 18 spend about 7 and a half hours a day using electronic media. That’s almost half the time they’re awake.

David Elkind, a professor at Tufts University, argues that this loss of children’s culture has led to the increase in bullying we see in our kids’ schools. It’s certainly contributed to the childhood obesity epdidemic.

This is where recess coaches come in. First Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, wrote in support of recess coaches as enablers of creative, safe play. Now David Elkind has chimed in.

It might be sad, but it seems to be true. Childhood has changed so much that the staunchest defenders of free play are embracing adult facilitators to help kids make that play happen.

A few weeks ago I weighed in against the idea of the recess coaches, but Lenore, David and my own friends have persuaded me to their side. In a world where recess is comprised of more bullying and boredom than ballgames, maybe an adult ref on the court isn’t such a bad idea.

For my own kids, I’m still trying to keep them outside and away from the glowing screens as much as possible. But it’s not easy, and I find myself teaching them a lot of the things a recess coach might when they’re older: how to play Simon Says, how to shoot marbles, how to do the clapping hand rhythms for Miss Mary Mack. Things their friends don’t seem to know, or care about.

What do you think? Do your kids know how to play? Are they learning the ‘culture of childhood’? Does it matter?

Photo: Pink Sherbert Photography

More by Sierra Black:

Honey, Don’t Bother the Gray Lady. She’s Busy Angering Mommy Bloggers

Should You Have Kids?

Did You Really Call That Kid A D-bag?

The Baby Sleep Wars

Will Your Son Abuse His Girlfriend?

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “The End of Play

  1. Citizen Mom says:

    Every aspect of school should focus on teaching and education, and I believe part of that means teaching kids how to play games and how to play those games with each other.
    We’ve romanticized kids and their need to just be themselves, which is fine for home, but school’s have a different responsibility. I remember the bullying and strong-arm tactics of the school playground, and those antics did not make me tougher or a better negotiator – and it certainly wasn’t fun.

  2. ann05 says:

    But… boredom at recess is what LED kids to develop these games. How do kids develop executive function with adults hovering over them all the time telling them how to play?

  3. BlackOrchid says:

    ann makes a good point!

  4. jenny tries too hard says:

    I would support banning actual hinderances like handheld video games, cell phones, etc from the playground, and keeping a close eye out for bullying…but kids DO need free play. The games kids are having trouble learning, like freeze tag or whatever, should be taught during PE, and the kids should decide for themselves what to play—or not play—during recess.

  5. GtothemfckinP says:

    yeah my kid knows how to play because I’m a SAHM and insist that she does things on her own and not bother me for stretches at a time…when kids are in institutionalized settings from infancy, they don’t learn this

  6. doing it myself says:

    I agree there needs to be something done, but I think a recess coach is absurd. For one, parents should be those coaches. And friends’ parents and neighbors. For two, if the culture of play has been lost to technology, then the simple solution is to reduce technology. I am a very busy SAHM. My kids watch less than 1/2 hour of TV a day–most days they don’t watch any at all. They play alone, they play with me. We have structured play and unstructured play. I am working hard to give them the tools to be creative problem-solvers. But it’s an uphill battle in our current society.

  7. jenny tries too hard says:

    Yes, because obviously parents who work never, ever take their kids to the park or play freeze-tag in the backyard…sahms have a monopoly there…

  8. GtothemfckinP says:

    OK, OK…I know…
    I agree w your other comment…and some kids might not WANT to play these games during recess…maybe they just want to sit by a tree and chill or chat with a friend…maybe they just want some alone time.

  9. JEssica says:

    Jenny, GP is not playing freeze-tag or taking her kid to a park, her kid is playing by herself as not to bother her for stretches at a time

  10. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Sounds neglectful.

  11. GtothemfckinP says:

    OK, whatever, JEssica. There are, like 14-16 hours in a mom’s day with her child when she is a SAHM or WAHM, so relax. Let’s not get into a contest about who does more with their kid, because I assure you…well, let’s just not go there. That said, it is quite healthy for a child to learn to play on their own for a half hour, etc. while I do other things. SAHMs know this and we don’t have that underlying guilt.

  12. JEssica says:

    Hey, I am just repeating what you said GP. I was just pointing out Jenny’s error.

  13. GtothemfckinP says:

    Pile on beyotches, I’ve got nothing to prove. A three year old can play on their own. Go do your nails while your 3 month old cries it out or something.

  14. jenny tries too hard says:

    OH for fuck’s sake…

  15. GtothemfckinP says:

    Seems kind of like *I* am the one being “bullied” by the call girl who seems to pop up on every thread I post on, etc. No worries. Peace. Out.

  16. JEssica says:

    GP, calm down. I was merely poking fun at you. You are being a smite over sensitive. I didn’t mean to upset you so much. I guess my sense of humor doesn’t tanslate well.

  17. ChiLaura says:

    Wow, Scorpio and jenny joining forces against GP? WHAT is going on here?!? (Checking outside my window to make sure that Armageddon is not on the horizon.) This is what happens when I take a strollerderby vacation? Wowza.

  18. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    No, she means me JEssica. Your sense of humor is just fine. It is telling how she reacts when someone replicates her hyperbolic behavior.

  19. BlackOrchid says:

    Can’t we all just get along?!?!?

  20. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    It’s just coincidence, ChiLaura. We’re waiting for a political thread to start tearing each other a new one.

  21. ChiLaura says:

    M_S, you and I disagree on so, so many things, but I do think that you’re funny, at least. =)

  22. JEssica says:

    You have been gone a while ChiLaura, where you’ve been?

  23. BLUSTER says:

    Whatever happened to ‘kick the can’?

  24. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Cans have sharp edges!!! Just kidding. I actually don’t know how to play kick the can, so I guess I need a coach.

  25. jenny tries too hard says:

    Impending Armageddon aside, if we are seriously entertaining the notion that daycare is to blame for kids not knowing how to play tag or red light/green light, I do disagree…in as much of a non-bullying way as a possible. I do think that too much structure and adult planning hurts kids’ ability and willingness to entertain themselves and play well with each other, but a quality daycare (heck, even many on the lower end of quality) will give kids plenty of time to play outside and inside with each other, in self-directed activity. Even playing with siblings in the go-get-out-of-my-hair-for-ten-minutes way gives kids that opportunity.

  26. GtothemfckinP says:

    Alright, alright…I know Jenny, you are right. I was just grinding my old axe…I don’t seriously feel bullied. JEssica, thanks for being so nice…OK…so then, why do those in charge feel like kids need coaching about how to play?

  27. jenny tries too hard says:

    Because $25,000 wasn’t gonna spend itself, don’tchaknow

  28. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    In the immortal words of Jules from Pulp Fiction: EXACTAMUNDO.

  29. Chiken says:

    GP – I haven’t looked at stroller derby in weeks, and when I do am I always assured that you will be here, spending your days online telling working moms that you are superior. Like death and taxes.

  30. JEssica says:

    “why do those in charge feel like kids need coaching about how to play?” because more adult intervention is always the answer

  31. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I was actually surprised to hear these ideas advocated by “free range” parenting. Sounds more like helicopter parenting to me.

  32. [...] are examining their recess rules to control bullying. MySpace and Facebook are being freshly scrutinized with an eye to the dangers [...]

  33. Mike Lanza says:

    I just pub lished an arti cle describing why I think that Elkind’s arti cle is a betrayal of the “free play” movement that he helped start. Check it out:

    The Neville Chamber lain of Free Play

  34. LogicalMama says:

    Kids at my son’s school are playing four square, tetherball, ball-wall games, kickball, capture the flag….. thankfully, the above mentioned issues aren’t a problem in our little neck of the woods. No recess coaches needed here!

  35. [...] Many kids just don’t know how to play anymore. [...]

  36. [...] The End of Play SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Will You Be Arrested For Leaving Your Kid Alone At The Park?", url: "" }); Related Posts:Recess Coaches Teach Kids To Play Nice [...]

  37. [...] all this overscheduling leads to, as Sierra discussed back in March, the end of play.  He recalls a time when his eldest child was “a victim of chronic over-stimulation by his [...]

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