Play, A Lost Art

Welcome to the New Year. Honestly have had a bit of writer’s block over the past few months, ok more than a few, months. I finally found the topic to get me writing again. PLAY or, rather, the lack of it in our children’s and our own lives!

Our kids are living in very structured worlds where they go to swim lessons, soccer practice, piano lessons, and after-school math tutors. Whew! I remember heading out the door after school when the only rule in our Brooklyn neighborhood was to be back by dinnertime. I know times are different today but I do think that we, as parents, are over-reacting and over-structuring our kids.  As a kid, when we played basketball, there were no coaches, no time clock, and no audience of parents to assess our performance. We played shirts and skins. When one game was over, if no one was waiting on the sideline to join the next game, we’d reshuffle the teams, re-balance the game and start anew.

Years later, sitting on the side line watching my daughters practice soccer at a very high level (two of them played in college), I often waited for the day when the girls would tell the coaches that they were going to organize their own game and just play after practice or on a weekend when there were not any ref’s or adults around.

Hillary Stout has written a great article in the NY Times about a “movement” to encourage parents to let their kids play more. Play meaning unstructured, intuitive, making-a-mess, building tents in the living room kind of play.

I ride bikes a few days a week early in the morning (click here to see the crew with our bikes) with some long time friends. We say we will ride hard for coffee. Nothing better than ending a cold morning ride with good conversation and some coffee. Well, yesterday as my little group was waiting to cross a major intersection, my wife and son drove by on their way to school. She honked and we waved. Last evening at home, I asked her, “Well, how did we look?” Obviously fishing for a compliment and hoping to hear: “Well you all looked professional in your spandex and helmets” or even “Wow, you all looked spectacularly fit.”

Her answer, at first,  surprised me. She said: “You were all laughing at something and seemed to be having a great time.” Later on I realized: that is what it is all about: laughter, activity, friendship and maybe a chance to keep old man time at bay, one more day.

So keep the kids in swim lessons (of course) but try not to micro-manage all of their down time. And if they can become a little more “play” self-sufficient, maybe you can finish reading that book as you listen to them planning their fort in the family room.