Nowadays free play time has been replaced by structured learning and the result is that children have more sensory issues and even emotional problems.
Parents are worried about the success of their children as early as preschool. They make their kids go on activities for reading, give them music and dance lessons, organise play dates, send them to camp, anything they can to give them an edge when they start “real” school.
The problem is that when you structure your children’s lives like this they don’t have enough free play time. This is time they desperately need to develop their brains properly.
Angela Hanscom explained everything to the Washington Post in a piece she wrote about how the decline of play in pre-schoolers is causing a rise in sensory problems. Angela is a writer and the founder of TimberNook. TimberNook is a nature-based camp in New England that doesn’t rely on structure.
She explained that children under the age of seven need to expose themselves to a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences if they are to develop strong minds and bodies. They can do this by playing outside and having their senses, along with their bodies, challenged by the world.
If children don’t have enough free play time they suffer from problems that would render their extra academic success pointless. They need social and emotional skills to make the most of their education after all.
When you don’t provide a child with enough play and movement time they actually start at a disadvantage, the very opposite of what these parents want. Children become underdeveloped and clumsy. They can’t pay attention, they can’t control their emotions, and are bad at interacting socially and solving problems. We’re seeing a large rise in problems with children these days and a big factor is that they aren’t having enough chances to play when they’re young.
Hanscom spoke to one preschool teacher who says that the children of today are a lot different than previous generations. These children will cry more often, and are easily frustrated. They are also clumsy and fall out of their seats and walk in to doors and walls several times a day. The teacher commented that these issues have never been seen on this scale before.
One reason for all of this is the different approach to parenting that has been taken in recent decades. Parents would rather hear about how well their Jolly Phonics went then hearing about all the fun their kids had. There is a significant rise in helicopter parenting meaning teachers are pressured to help children improve their grades and to follow up with homework. Schools have taken this obsession and changed the curriculum. Now there is less play in schools and more of this work that seems to be what the parents want.
Unfortunately the victims in the debate between free play and structured learning is the children. Adults need to let children do what they are supposed to do when they’re young. They climb, and chase, and jump; they get messy and they get hurt. If we had more of that then we’d have less of the social skills groups, special breathing techniques and all of the other stuff we use to teach children how to sit still. Don’t forget all the medication that kids are being put on these days. We need to let children develop and learn these things naturally rather than forcing them and potentially messing up their entire lives.