March 25, 2010

This is not the stuff dreams are made of

I am a huge proponent of allowing children time for free, unstructured play. If left to their own devices, children will take on play themes they deem fit, which includes assuming a variety of roles, from princesses to cowboys to cops and robbers. Some are fanciful; others touch on darker aspects of our society.

Yet I am disturbed by the idea that a playground set in a public housing complex in New York City would feature a "pretend jail" as part of its playscape, as reported yesterday by a New York Times blog. In an area plagued by economic challenges, jail takes on a meaning far beyond child’s play.

There seems to be to some debate around the source of this particular piece of equipment. The housing authority and playground manufacturer have both been called out, but it is unclear who is actually at fault. Setting blame aside, I would like to take a moment to congratulate the community for stepping up and attempting to rectify the situation.

But there is a broader problem here that transcends class issues—that is, adults imposing play themes on children. While a "pretend castle" may not have inspired the same controversy, it would have equally stunted the children's ability to choose their own imaginary environment. Regardless of your background, where you live, or how much money you bring home, at the end of the day, we all want more for our children. This includes providing an opportunity to play, socialize, and dream big—free from the restrictions of play themes that adults deem appropriate.

- Danielle Marshall, KaBOOM! Manager of Traning and Education

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