Today I took the girls to our local nature center. It is a lovely place with animals to touch, a Star Show that is geared towards little ones, and a play area with nature puzzles and books. Aside from the HUGE Timber Rattlesnake there, I am a fan, plus it is free so we can go whenever we want. Usually the place is crowded, but since the zoo is free on Mondays to county residents I suppose everyone was there0 the nature center was totally empty except for a handful of families.
After ooohing and aahhhing over the turtles and the bunnies we headed over to the play area for some free play and were soon joined by another mother and her 2yr old son. Right away I could tell that I was going to have to work reeeeeally hard to keep my mouth shut about what was going on. This poor little boy just couldn’t play!!! His mom was in his face, calling his name over and over, telling him how to play then making him stop to smile for the camera, then showing him a book or a puzzle, then calling his name again for something else. I have never seen a parent helicopter as much as this mother. And this little guy was so confused and in turn, took to ignoring his mom’s incessant calling and commands. I wanted to tell her, “JUST LET HIM PLAY, can’t you see you are confusing him?!”.
Why parents feel the need to direct free play is beyond me. On occasion I will make a suggestion to AJ if she looks bored or conflicted about something, but the majority of the time I just sit my tush down and watch or use the time to give Moira my full attention. I don’t ignore my children, but I do not turn into a cruise director and take command of their every move.
Even worse than the “Play Directors” are the hovering “Worry-Copters”. These are the parents who are so scared of a scraped knee or a stumble that they don’t let their kid do ANYTHING remotely risky. “Don’t pick up the woodchips! Stop running! Get out of that tree. You can’t climb that, you’ll fall and get hurt” Go down the slide the right way!” I mean really, if you aren’t allowed to run at the PARK, then where the heck are you allowed to run?
Our society is so scared that we are taking away everything that is fun and in turn creating children who are are scared to try new things, give up easily, are unable to negotiate this world on their own because they were never allowed to. Kids who are so restricted lack a great deal of creativity (I mean true creativity- not the cookie cutter “art” that schools produce) and do not understand their own boundaries and limits. People are scared of litigation, schools are focusing on academics so they are taking away recess and the arts, and our society is cultivating a culture that does not tolerate childhood. Free play at a playground? What purpose does that serve for their future?
I think that there is a line between neglectful parenting and choosing to let your children actually experience life with you serving as a guide and a resource. Have you heard that the European Union is now recommending that children wait until 8 to blow up balloons and another 6 years to blow a party whistle by themselves? Oh, and those cuddly teddy bears are a no no for children under 3 because they harbor germs… Really?! It is because of guidelines like these that parents are paranoid and kids are devoid of fun.
People. let your children PLAY!
*If you are an iPhone user there is a great app by Kaboom! that lets you find nearby parks, arrange play dates, and rate them so you don’t end up at a park that has seen better days.
The site is full of suggestions on how to get grants to improve local parks and you can sign a pledge to save play at your school!