Are kids playing anymore?

Do you remember what it was like to be a kid and play? Did you run around the neighborhood until your mom called you home for dinner? I used to play the hiding game or minute game (which was hide and seek but we were too old for that) all over our block. We would also skate, ride bikes, and every summer we would hunt down refrigerator cardboard boxes to use to make houses. We would cut out windows and even hang curtains.

Being a kid was fun, but now we don’t see kids playing as much as they used to. I know life is different now, you have to keep a closer eye on kids, you can’t let them roam the neighborhood like we might have been able to; but they don’t play enough even in their own backyards. I watch elementary kids leave schools with their cell phones, ipods, and other mp3s. I see kids jump in the car and start playing with their Game Boys and I think — what did I do in 4th grade? I went to school, did some homework, and then played until dinner time.

I’m not saying I think modern technology is evil, hey, I love my Internet connection, but have kids forgotten how to play? I’m not talking about classes — judo, dance, music, soccer, chess — I’m talking about kids getting together and playing a game of catch or freeze tag. How often do you see that anymore?

There is so much pressure being put on our kids to compete in school, sports, and life. I just was at a site talking about a DVD that helps little kids learn to read. Supposedly they can learn to recognize words as young as three months. I enjoy learning, and I know my kids are benefiting from learning two languages, but do we really need to teach a baby how to recognize words? We have heard over and over again about schools cutting back on arts and physical education and even recess. Why? So the kids have time to do the real learning — so the kids can excel on their SAT scores and get into the college of their choice. We are supposedly getting three month olds on the track to better SAT scores instead of letting them roll over and chew on their toys.

Evidently, we have to work on getting our kids to play again. The irony of that statement — we have to work on play. The other day I was driving to the hospital to visit my mom and I heard this interesting program about kids and exercise. Author Rae Pica was being interviewed about her new book “A Running Start-How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child” in which she writes about how achievement is being valued above playing and how this isn’t good. She mentioned in the interview a study that was done among elementary students in which they found that when 30 per cent of the day was spent in physical activity, the students actually performed better in their academic work.

According to Daniel Broughton, M.D. at the “unstructured playtime gives children the opportunity to learn, to reason, to make decisions and to use their imaginations… When an adult isn’t dictating how something must be done, kids practice when to push and when to compromise on their own.”

I have to admit I get a bit consumed with the learning thing. I love to read and I love to learn. I have to remember that kids need to play. My kids are not overly structured with karate classes and advanced learning classes, but that is probably more to do with our financial restrictions than to a decision to see them play more.

In the last couple of weeks, homework has been a big topic of debate in the schools, and some schools are enforcing “no homework policies.” I heard a guest on another radio talk show speak about the lack of studies that support the benefits of homework — at least among younger kids. I understand that making a young elementary school kid focus on homework after a day of sitting in the class is asking quite a bit. 

I want to make a distinction here though. I think there is a big difference between a 4th grader and a 7th grader when it comes to homework and playing. I think for older kids it’s important to have homework and plenty of structure. I think too much free time when you get to be a teenager isn’t healthy. I want my kids, when they are teenagers to be busy with sports, homework–every activity I can find! Too much free time as a teenager can be dangerous. I also think that learning more responsibility is important as they get older. My husband, who was a math teacher for a number of years, has said many times that math is a skill that needs to be practiced. Anyone who writes knows that the more you write the better you write (hopefully!). So, should we get rid of homework in order to give more time to playing? Well, maybe we need to cut it down for the younger kids but I’m all for keeping those older kids practicing algebraic equations and writing papers!

It seems that the education system is somewhat out of balance. Is homework going away so that kids will play more or is a no homework policy being encouraged because parents have a hard time getting their kids to do their homework?  I don’t particularly relish prodding my son to do his homework, but at nine years of age I also think it’s an opportunity to start teaching him about diligence and responsibility. I think my kindergartner might learn that lesson in a different way, however.

So what’s the balance? How do we get our kids playing more and still learning important attributes like discipline, responsibility, diligence and even self esteem when they complete hard work? How much learning happens just through playing?

Lately, my husband and I seem to be thinking more and more about other educational options for my kids. They’re in public school and are doing fine, but I keep thinking that I could offer a more individualized learning environment for them if I home schooled. Believe me, that is a really hard thing for me to say. I love dropping my kids off at school, and having a break.  Am I trying to fix something that’s not broken? Would my kids, who thrive on social interaction, hate me? Could I home school them without ruining them, and without taking me one step closer to lunacy?


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. perkidawn
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 10:02:54

    🙂 I hear you. My first grader has homework two days a week, and honestly it’s such a WASTE of time anyway. (If you’ve read my blog you know how I feel about the garbage math curriculum they use here.) I DID homeschool for ten years, and I can tell you that if you do it, it is a huge time commitment (and money, gotta buy those books) but if you decide it is the right thing for your family, you will not regret the time you get with them. That’s probably the biggest thing that I miss. I MISS MY KIDS. I’m not an overprotective mom, never isolated them or forced them to stay away from others. My kids probably had a busier life than most schooled kids BECAUSE THEY HAD TIME. School work takes a couple of hours. Then they have time to play, time for swim team, time to draw or build a birdhouse, take a bike ride to bring carrots to a horse that lives 2 miles away…. All things that my kids did on a regular basis.

    My regret now is that, at the very least in math, I can do a better job than what they’re getting. That’s frustrating. If your kids have interests, big interests, homeschooling will free them up to follow those interests AND learn that way too. Homework has its place, in math and writing particularly in the jr. high/high school, but it also cuts them off from following other things that interest them, things that they would follow through and teach themselves because they WANT to….

    Will they hate you? Maybe at first. Take some fun field trips and don’t try to turn your house into a mini-school, and they will relax and you’ll all learn together…

  2. rjlight
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 10:29:57

    Hey, thanks perkidawn I appreciate your input. In CA here we have this thing called CAVA (California Virtual Academy) it’s with the public school system so all materials are free and there is even a teacher assigned to the kids. Wednesday’s are community days — this is the only way I will consider this option. Thank you so much for giving me your perspective!

  3. Bethany
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 12:46:41

    Thanks for visiting my site. I love that you have ice cream as a category, I will definitely be stopping by on Ben & Jerry’s day.

    My oldest daughter wanted to be home schooled when she was in elementary school. Her best friend was home schooled. (Her mom was my baby sitter) There was no way at the time for me to quit my job and home school. Now I think about home schooling my youngest, but then it passes. I’m just not sure I could do the job. I think I would be too impatient and instead of instilling a love of learning, I would probably make her hate it.

  4. rjlight
    Mar 14, 2007 @ 08:57:17

    It’s such a hard decision but there are more options now than there used to be for homeschooling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: