Our interview with fabulous playmaker and blogger, Alex Smith of Canada, continues as he discusses how our children’s freedom to play is being threatened.
TPP: So what is ‘Playgroundology’? And what exactly is the social science of playgrounding? Is it just going to different playgrounds to just play?
AS: I was looking for a unique name for the blog, something with stickiness, something that would set it apart and hopefully pique interest. I’ve had a curiosity about cultural anthropology my entire adult life. When I tacked the ‘ology’ onto ‘playground’ checked it visually on the computer screen and spoke it out loud, it looked and sounded right.
The tag line ‘…an emerging social science’ was meant a bit tongue in cheek. But in fact children’s play is a growing area of serious academic study that involves multiple disciplines including sociology, psychology, anthropology and others.
(TPP notes: To my readers who are also educators, Alex has provided us an interesting list of academic research and play advocacy groups too. You can find the list here at Alex Smith’s Short List of Play Advocacy & Research Groups.)
TPP: What sort of threats does play face in your part of the world ?
AS: Two of the current recurring themes, in North America and Europe, that focus on play have to do with examining and understanding the impacts of dramatically reduced ‘free play’ time and the nature deficit in increasingly urbanized, time-crunched and achievement-oriented societies.
These are societal issues that will have effects beyond the childhood years and will require both individual and policy responses.
TPP: How seriously should parents treat play and playground time?
AS: The word that counts for everything in ‘playground’ is ‘play’. Kids need to have time to play, to explore, to imagine, to take risks, to fall, to fail, to make friends, to create their own worlds without parents hovering over them every minute.
It is critical that some of this time is undirected, free play where it is kids themselves who lead their own activities.
In North America and Western Europe free play is becoming more and more scarce as children are shuttled to and from school, to childcare, to lessons, to sports in a sometimes seemingly endless pursuit of achievement. (TPP says: Hey! Doesn’t this sound familiar?)
Kids need time to be kids, to play. Some of this free play time can be well spent in a playground environment where kids will naturally exercise and experiment with social skills and physical ability through games and their creative talents.
One of the keys is to get kids playing outdoors on a regular basis away from video games, television and the other indolent, physically inactive attractions.