Thursday, April 9, 2009
The Ottawa Citizen: Study details the downside to child's play (February 23, 2009):
Listen up, kids: your teachers are right. Don't throw snowballs. Don't run, don't walk and maybe even stop crawling when you're around school. You'll get hurt. More than 4,000 children between the ages of five and 19 were injured in a year in Ottawa-area schools, according to a study of emergency rooms in the nation's capital....Children were most likely to get injured when they were at play or involved in informal sports activities. In other words, goofing off and being kids. The children most likely to be injured are boys between the ages of 10 and 14 -- boys in that age group accounted for almost a third of all the injuries.
Is this rocket science? Children are more likely to be injured when goofing off than when sitting in front of the television. To be fair, the authors of the study did say that they do not advocate parking your kid in front of the TV as a result of this study, but they also do caution parents and teachers against free play and say that the supervision needs to be stepped up. But have they really considered the long-term consequences of that? Let's think about this a bit:
- If children do not have the opportunity to goof off and learn about their own physical abilities and limits, then they are probably more likely to be injured doing less dangerous things because they do not know their body's capabilities very well.
- If children are only allowed to run, jump, and climb when strictly supervised, they aren't going to find it very fun and are likely to do less of it which can have detrimental consequences on both their physical and mental health (think unimaginative obese kids).
Kids need to be kids. Sure, there are some easy things we can do to make them safer, like putting bike helmets on them when they are riding a bike, making sure there is a soft landing below large play structures, and so on. But prohibiting or carefully supervising goofing off? That is too much.
In the book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv talks about the importance of unstructured play and the opportunity to just connect with nature. There is a big difference in what a child experiences playing organized soccer on a flattened groomed field versus doing somersaults and handstands in long grass filled with wild flowers.
Unstructured play is already on the decline and studies like this put it at greater danger. How sad are these statistics (reported in Miami Herald: Changing Nature of Play)?
Three- to 5-year-olds have lost an average of 501 minutes of unstructured play each week, according to a University of Michigan study tracking time use from 1981 to 1997. Their older siblings, 6- to 8-year-olds, lost an average of 228 minutes.
Play needs to be child-led, not all of the time, but frequently. Please don't let fear mongering studies like the one quoted at the top of this post restrict your child's opportunity to play. Advocate for free play at your child's school. Make time for free play in your own family life.
- Last Child in the Woods (by Richard Louv)
- Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear (by Helen Guldberg)
- Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry (by Lenore Skenazy of the Free-Range Kids blog)