The End of Play

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

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