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How to Become a Master Player

IMG_8631Play in the stream at Hideaway Woods was definitely a highlight for many kids on our field trip to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham this week.  Hideaway Woods is a fantastic new exhibit within a really wonderful museum.  It is totally worth checking out.  The museum folks there really understand children and play.

A museum volunteer stopped by for a while to watch the kiddos  from our school in the stream and told me excitedly that this was the most action she had seen in the stream so far (The exhibit opened in late September).   All kids are natural players and given the IMG_8616opportunity, and especially great settings like Hideaway Woods, they will engage deeply in play.

The kids from our group are master players, though, when you see them in action you know that what is happening has them deeply engaged and committed.  On the drive to Durham my van made an unplanned stop for a potty break and nursing baby.  The only option for the kids to play was a hill and patch of dirt.  They immediately created a game and came back to the van dirty and ready for the rest of the ride.   We have witnessed this over and over, especially as we field trip around our city and state.

Of course, we love awesome spaces intentionally made for open ended play like Hideaway Woods.  In fact we are willing to drive across the state to enjoy them!!  Now we just need to have this kind of simple play setting throughout public spaces, like elementary schools, and not just at museums and parks!

So what makes the kiddos in our community master playeIMG_8627rs?  Just a few things that we make available to them that are really the right of every child.   And I don’t mean the right of every child before she turns 5 and heads off to kindergarten.  I mean the right of every child birth through adolescence.   The ideas below are most tuned into age birth through age 8, but the need and right doesn’t stop there.

  • Multiple opportunities to play every day   20 minutes of recess at school is not enough.  Playing in the neighborhood after school and after/before homework is not enough.   Children under 8 need much of their day for play.
  • Extended time to to play  Sometimes it takes children a while to become productively engaged in play.  Particularly indoors, it seems like “center time” or free play time is chaotic when teachers are only able (because of mandates and schedule requirements) to reserve 30 to 45 minutes (if they can reserve any time at all!) for play.  It can take 30 minutes for children to settle into play.  So by the time children have become engaged, it’s time to clean up, which naturally they are not ready to do.  Whenever possible children need a block of at least an hour and half or MORE for a play period.
  • Open ended play materials  Children’s play thrives when the children, rather than the materials, lead the play.  Characters from media generally and toys that only function in one way can thwart children’s creative ideas.  Still we can give kids lots of credit, because they can and do pursue creative play with even the most mass marketed toys out there.   Still simple toys (like wooden unit blocks or sand in the sandbox or sticks and rocks) inspire freethinking, so that when more media-bound stories enter the picture, children can disrupt the narratives of others in favor of their own.
  • Support from loving and empathetic adults Through play children find so many opportunities for social growth.  Much of the time the social challenges that arise during play solve themselves as children use the play scenario and other tools to work things out.  Sometimes, though, an adult’s role is to enter the playworld to offer empathy and support.  This is, of course, a life’s work unto itself and hardly to be managed in a single bullet point!  For just a smidgen more check out Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen
  • Freedom Kids need freedom to get dirty, to take manageable risks, to try things out for themselves, to fail, to create their own fun.  Children have a right to be free to play.

Did you know, in fact, that the United Nations has a set of child rights: The Convention on the Rights of Child.  Article 31 specifically names the right to play.  Did you know that the United States is the only country who is not “party” to the convention?

Article 31

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

 Let’s all tune into seeing this right of children in embodied in our world.  The Museum of Life and Science is doing it.  So can the rest of us.

One thought on “How to Become a Master Player”

  1. Lacy, I love your post. Such an important topic. It seems that in general,in our society, many adults have lost a true understanding of what play is. We think kids are playing, if they run around a structured school playground for 20 minutes or participate in after school sports. True play is very different and you outlined it so beautifully in your blog. Thanks!!

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