Let the Children Play on NYT.com

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Sep 092009

There’s an editorial by Stuart Brown in the NYT advocating for more play time — physical, unstructured play time — during the school year for kids. Much of the argument is right in line with “theory of fun” principles…

For most American children in the not-so-distant past, “going out to play” was the norm. Today, according to a University of Michigan study, children spend 50 percent less time outside than they did just 20 years ago — and the 6.5 hours a day they spend with electronic media means that sitting in front of a screen has replaced going out.

Let the Children Play (Some More) – Happy Days Blog – NYTimes.com

Tossed in amidst the article is the quote

Physically engaging play is actually more fun than the virtual sort, and the enlivenment one gets from it can transcend the allure of sedentary life in a two-dimensional, electronic world.

which I don’t think is really clear from the science — our brains seem to regularly get fooled into thinking that the screen is a real world. That said, assertion or not, I think it is fair to say that the many other benefits of physical play outweigh the quibble.

The real entertainment, however, comes in the 9 pages (!) of comments, full of childhood reminiscences from people from all walks of life describing their playtime — stickball, bikes, splashing in creeks, roleplay, swings — and debate on “stranger danger.”

  3 Responses to “Let the Children Play on NYT.com”

  1. I’m all for more outdoors, unstructured play – especially in schools. Henry Jenkins makes a similar point in his Complete Freedom of Movement article, about games and gender. Thanks for the link.

    Well, I must be off – I have some unstructured activity outside to attend to… :p

  2. I love being outdoors, I love trails and the woods and mountains and the ocean. I’ve done over 100 triathlons. I love experiencing the outdoors with my kids. We ride bikes, we walk, we swim. It’s all play. And I can definitively say, as far as this experiment of one (or 4, family-wise) goes – the idea that indoor play is automatically worse than outdoor play is a load of hooey.

    There are advantages to the outdoors:
    – exercise is valuable, and its often easier to have a joyful exercise experience outside, at least in sunny California,
    – I agree with the book The Age of Missing Information that there are important lessons we miss as we become more disconnected from the wild (circle of life, etc)

    but…play and creativity and quality time wherein your mind is engaged is not the sole province of the outdoors by a long shot. It’s a lot more about quality and intent than about level of natural sunlight and quantity of insects.

    As far as this idea that time in front of the 2d screen will stunt your brain, seems outrageous to a dad who has spent an inordinate amount of time playing electronic games with his 5 and 7 year old kids and yet is happily watching them now learn how to swim and bike and ride horses and climb trees. And they move like whirling dervishes indoors. I don’t know that their extensive time outdoors really involves a higher quantity or quality of exercise. All of their full body movement is really free play, indoors or out.

    My response feels a bit reactionary, but then again so is the OP.

  3. There was a good discussion at PAX: “Game Developer Parents: Raising our Kids on Games”… but only touched on physical games. The US governments also been putting a lot of broadcast time into their “Play Hard”, “Eat Smart” campaign pushing the general concept of physical play (without being that specific!) (disclaimer: I watch TV with my nephew.) He’s been getting some play ideas from different places, from freeform tag to onlne stuff like the database of physical games… wanted to try this one called ‘fortress’, but having trouble rounding up 10 other RL players: Fortress (10 or more)… be great to get larger scale physical games going that arent standard sports/football/etc…

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