July 09, 2009

Musings on self-directed play

This piece was originally published on the Playmaker Discussion group. You can read the original post here.

Recently, Bethe Almeras of the blog The Grass Stain Guru posted a piece of re-evaluating scheduling all kinds of activities for kids, and instead letting them have time to have self-directed play.  It's a great point.  So much of the time we're focused on either fitting play into a strict schedule, or not leaving any time for unstructured play in our lives -- or those of our kids.

One quote really stuck with me:

Play is a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated (Wilson, 2009)

Bethe asks these questions to determine if play is self-directed, and it's more to think about:

  • Is it child-centered and led?
  • Does it have a set of directions, desired outcomes, rules, etc.?
  • How much input does the child have in the activity?
  • Why are they doing it? Does it involve pleasing adults or earning rewards/points/rankings?
  • Is it (still) fun for them? If the adults were not there, what would happen? What type of learning and how much fun? Would the kids carry-on as scheduled, or morph the activity into something of their own creation?
Even President Obama had something to say about it:

...especially during the summer, you would leave at 8:00 a.m., and then maybe you came home for some lunch, and then you'd be gone until dark and you'd come back in. And that whole time you were out there running around. Well, kids aren't doing that.

We use the term "unstructured play" quite a bit (particularly on this blog), and I think that can have a confusing connotation that structure is never there.  The structure, however, is the one that grows organically, from these free choices that we have in play, as opposed to something imposed on free play.

So how can we help spread the word about this?  How can we encourage folks to let kids just "run around?"  Perhaps more importantly, how do we connect people with their own memories of play as children, and reiterate the need to encourage free play in kids today?  

Something to mull over, as we head into the weekend -- come back ready to share theories and stories about your weekend!


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