When I was little, I am sure my childhood was similar to so many of yours: the school day ended at 3pm, homework was minimal, television was a treat at the end of the day, and school holidays consisted of being unceremoniously shovelled out the door at 8am ‘to play’ until we were called back in …
I tell my children about my own childhood, and in-between perfectly timed sighs that they have heard it all before and eye-rolls that seem to lodge in the back of their heads (how do they do that??), are incredulous questions such as “You only had a HALF HOUR of tv a day ? And there were only 4 channels ? And you had no screens / phone / ipads ?? But how did you talk to your friends? What did you DO all day??’…
And I tell them what we did all day – we played. With friends, on our own, with toys, with sticks and anything else that we came across; we hunted for mini beasts, we did chalk drawings, we played dress up with dolls, we made up games that could go on all summer, we rode our bikes for miles.
Today’s childhood is different from our own nostalgic ones, and I understand that things have changed since then: technology, the cost of living, and modern family structure and lifestyle makes it difficult to go back to the ‘good old days’.
But today’s children seem to be suffering from a rise in childhood depression, as reported on in this story in the Telegraph. Children have more stress in their lives now than ever before, a result of modern day burdens such as early exams, the pressures of social media, peer expectations, and a myriad of other issues tto which this this generation is exposed.
There seems to be a solution right under our noses : the power of play has shown to reduce stress in children and help them cope with the pressures of modern day living. And spontaneous, non structured play is the best way to exercise the brain, increase creativity, and explore one's own potential.
David Elkind, a longtime professor at Tufts University wrote the ground breaking books ‘ The Hurried Child’ and ‘The Power of Play’. He states, "Basically, play is nature's way of dealing with stress for children as well as adults" (Elkind, 2001, p. 197). Parenting website Education.com says ‘When children can repeatedly play out the issues they are struggling to understand, they can make sense of them and gradually be able to set them aside. From the serious problems of a disturbed child to the more mundane struggles of young children everywhere, childhood play is one of the best techniques available to work through stress (Frost, Wortham, & Reifel, 2005).’
Now more than ever its vital that we bring non structured, creative, traditional play back into the lives of our children – helping them cope not only today but tomorrow, too.
So break out the dolls, the construction sets, the art supplies and the empty cardboard boxes and let them do what they were made to do – play.
Written by David Cain - October 09 2014