Saturday, 23 November 2019

"Children don't know how to play"

is the subject of an article in the paper this morning. It goes on to talk about some research which is being done and which suggests children spend more time on their phones than actively playing at school.
I might not have taken a great deal of notice except that I was recently told the story (later confirmed) of the new teacher who told her young class that part of their homework was to "go outside and play". Most of the children had no idea what they were expected to do. They didn't play outside. When they reached home they watched television or "played games" on screens. 
The idea that they might do something to entertain themselves was apparently completely foreign to them. That is frightening.
We played outside all the time. My brother and I read books outside too. Our mother didn't want us in the house. No don't blame her. Our mother was a teacher. Looking back I realise that, although she was a very good teacher, she was not particularly fond of children. Once school was over for the day she simply wanted to get on with all the many other things that needed to be done without interruption.
Other mothers also expected their children to be "out" rather than "in". It had to be pouring rain before we were allowed to stay inside. Indeed in one place we lived in there was a two room structure at the very end of the garden. The Senior Cat used one and we children had the other. We were shooed off to that rather than be allowed to stay inside. 
We entertained ourselves. My brother had been given quite a sturdy carpentry kit so we made things - yes we used a little saw, a hammer, nails, a screwdriver and the like. I doubt any child I know now would be allowed to do that unsupervised - and some would not even be allowed to do that when supervised. Yes of course we hit our thumbs and injured ourselves in other ways - but we knew better than to go crying to our Christian Scientist mother. Perhaps that was one good thing about her religious beliefs - we learnt to deal with such things ourselves.
There are apparently schools which no longer children to use balls in the playground. A ball might injure someone.
I know parents who will not allow their children to ride bikes for fear of injury. (The same parents encourage the children to play much more dangerous contact sports like football.)
But it isn't just the lack of physical activity that is a concern. Not so long ago a child of about eight asked me what I did when I was small. She didn't  use the word "play". I told her about games like "Cowboys and Indians", "Pirates", "Space Men", "Doctors and Nurses" (the latter only when our mother was not likely to find out) and the like. Alarmingly it was clear she had no idea what any of this meant. She has a room of her own apart from her bedroom but it has a good many pink plastic toys in it. Her little brother is already quite skilled at  using an i-pad to play "games" and she uses one to play more games with Barbie look alikes - games where, as far as I can see, someone else has done the thinking and the creating.
Thankfully the two young kittens across the road do know how to play. Their paediatrician mother and I have been discussing what I might put into their Christmas holidays activity packs. There won't be a "game" in sight. They will create their own.  Some children still know how to play and they will be the leaders of the future. 

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