King of the Mountain

The other day I happened to look out the window as three squirrels were playing… I can only call it King of the Mountain – they were taking turns being on top of the snow piles, alternating with a round of Hide and Seek, followed by more King of the Mountain. (Turns out it’s as important for animals to play as it is for humans, according to Dr. Gray, see below.)

There is precious little outdoor play happening around our neighborhood – the one family whose kids would regularly be out playing during the warmer months has moved away. I see several kids walk by afternoons after the school bus deposits them, but I seldom hear see/hear them later on.

So this article, based on the work of Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist, caught my eye yesterday, about what has happened to Play here in our tightly scheduled culture. In the article, “for an activity to truly be considered play, it must:

– be self-chosen and self-directed

– be done for its own sake and not an outside reward

– have some sort of rules/structure

– have an element of imagination

– be conducted in an alert frame of mind.”

Then I found the TED Talk by Dr. Gray, which is even better (16 minutes).

He points out that kids are now more depressed and anxious, largely due to no longer having an internal sense of control over their lives that comes from experiencing plenty of real play. Adequate play allows children to learn to solve problems, get along with peers and practice empathy, be creative and innovative.

Here on The Trail we have told stories of our various play exploits in freer times, and have lamented the loss of this kind of childhood. At the end of his talk, Peter Gray suggests some ways for us to get play back into the lives of children, but first let’s give our baboons here a shot at it:

What changes would you make in our homes, schools, and neighborhoods that would allow more true play to exist for children?

29 thoughts on “King of the Mountain”

  1. Great post! Our son and Dil are doing it right, since our grandson isn’t allowed to watch TV or have screen time of any sort. They won’t allow electronic toys. He is only 20 months old, and he does very simple puzzles and builds with blocks. He loves books. He pretends that things are hot and wears enormous oven mitts to pretend to pick them up.

    I am a play therapist. The children I see in therapy have too many toys at home that they can’t organize or manage. I had a doll house in my play therapy room that was frustrating for the children because it didn’t have actual stairs that led from one floor to another. Their play with it was stymied because they couldn’t make the characters get from one floor to another in their imaginations. I now have a doll house with stairs, and it works better.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. When Daughter was young(er), i made sure she had time in the day to do what she wanted – to play with her friend who lived a couple houses down, to explore the yard by herself, to go to a friend’s house. We were lucky in having an after-school program that encouraged free play time: they had some toys, they had art supplies, you could go outside – just play. I limited her non-school (and earlier, day care) lessons and scheduled activities so she had time to just be a kid. This winter as she was asking about starting piano back up, adding tennis lessons, and…something else I forget to her current circus and pole vault lessons, I first said “pick one – four is too many.” She went and thought about it and realized that circus and pole vault was enough for now – she still needs time in her week that isn’t scheduled, that is time to just be a teenager. That “play” now may be different, but it’s still important. Smart girl. (And, P.S. She has figured out how to add piano back in by taking it as an elective next year in school…so it’s not “extra” really.)

    Liked by 5 people

  3. We have two large grocery bags on the living room floor for cat play. This morning our Tortie is in one bag sticking her paws out of holes conveniently chewed in the bag corners by the other cat. As far as I can tell she is pretending something, and she is having fun.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. On Sunday early afternoon I noticed that Nimue was sitting inside of a tote bag in the breakfast room, just peering out. Then about an hour later I heard this huge ruckus downstairs and ran down to find out that when she had tried to exit the bag she had gotten her head through the handle and couldn’t figure out how to get loose. In tearing around downstairs trying to get out she had gotten Guinevere’s attention who then gave chase. I had to be careful not to get injured getting her loose.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. We didn’t have cable or an antenna for our television until daughter was in high school. We only watched videos. I think that made a difference for our children. We had public radio and music playing constantly.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Daughter is considering changing jobs from one that entails intensive family therapy to one that would involve more actual play therapy. She has claimed all my play therapy toys upon my retirement.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RIse and Have Some Fun, Baboons,

      The only thing I would add to other Baboons comments about the changes at home would be reduce/eliminate computer/electronic games such as play stations. Perhaps use them as time-limited rewards, but do not use them as a regular source of play. I don’t like the changes in children’s behavior that I see with the regular use of those, especially addictive behaviors.

      I will comment on school environments. I would lengthen the school day and lengthen recess and lunch periods which have been dramatically shortened by transportation scheduling. I think kids need 20-30 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon, and a lot of time to play at lunch. [They also need time to EAT their lunch. Here in AZ our grandkids complain that if you eat hot lunch there often is not time to stand in line to get the lunch, then find a place to sit, then eat it. That has to be illegal. They also don’t have enough chairs, desks and books, so kids sit on the floor at the back of the room. (Even typing this I feel my internal contempt, disgust, and disapproval.)].

      Many boys I have worked with professionally need a lot of movement and time to play so they can come back to the classroom and focus. I am convinced that more playtime and physical movement would eliminate ADHD-like behaviors for some of these kids.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. By second grade Daughter had figured out that even waiting in line for milk took too much of her lunch time. She is a slow eater, and 5 minutes matters. Since then she has had a thermos for milk or water. Even 20 more minutes in the school day would make such a difference in time for lunch and recess.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I agree with what everybody has said about schools. In fact just in the last week I’ve read an article talking about how early starts for high school is really bad for teenagers whose brains actually need to sleep more. And another article about how studies have shown that homework is pretty irrelevant especially in elementary school, it doesn’t give any results whatsoever.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Almost too provocative of a question, BiR. 🙂 Got my mind racing. The short version of my answer is to blow up the public education system as we know it and start from scratch. Use what works but rebuild based on the problems/challenges our current society has given us. Single parents, insufficient incomes, electronic babysitters, computerized everything, nut cases regularly shooting up schools, etc. Figure out the best way to deal with those problems and tailor it to what best educates the largest number of children.

    Dealing with parents who don’t have a clue how to BE parents is perhaps an even bigger challenge. It’s not all their fault of course since most have to work longer hours for less money just to stay above water. Who has time to be a parent when you work 10, 12, 14 hours per day? But parents who only want to be their child’s best friend and don’t have the cojones to say NO to their child should be required to take remedial parenting classes until they get it through their thick heads that children NEED discipline and structure, rules, restrictions, parameters, and PARENTAL LOVE, not best-friend love.

    Gotta stop or I’d write a 50-page essay on this topic.

    Chris in Owatonna (who’s glad he was a child when he was and raised by the parents he had)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said, Chris. I came upon this yesterday on Facebook, and I’ll have to say there’s a lot in here I agree with, at least partially. I haven’t researched the group, which is called Fantastic Fathers, but it’s certainly food for thought.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post, BiR, and I loved the TED talk.

    Part of me resists this message because I’ve seen so many critiques by older people over the decades. They express dismay over “what is happening to our kids,” then point a finger at whatever novel thing is happening in the culture. I’ve long predicted that the internet and easy access to computers would be blamed for whatever seems wrong with kids today.

    Even so, I see reasons to regret the loss of unsupervised play and the rise of electronic babysitters. My daughter sent me a link to an article by a child behavior expert who argued that the plethora of electronic toys now favors narcissism, sedentary lifestyles, impatience and an attitude of “I want what I want and I want it now.”

    Our daughter had oodles of unstructured playtime, choosing to spend much of it reading books or fooling around outdoors. Looking at the person she has become makes me wish more kids today had that.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Our son had fine and gross motor problems as a young child due to prematurity, and didn’t play much with toys because his fingers and hands didn’t work. He justed wanted books. Our daughter didn’t play much with toys, either. She just wanted to be outside with her best friend across the street and climb trees and play with the dogs and the cats. . She never wanted to play with dolls or anything like that. It was kind of odd to be a play therapist whose children didn’t like toys very much.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Afternoon-
    Kelly and I both talk about how much time we spent outside as kids. Playing in trees and piles of rocks.
    But our kids didn’t. Course with us both working and them at daycare, they don’t develop those same habits. When we were kids, mom and dad were both home and we COULD go outside to play.
    The kids still played outside with other kids, just not the singular habits.
    And when they were home, son was in books. Daughter did a lot with dolls. Now she’s into books too.
    And we’re OK with that.

    The world has changed. I like the longer school day to give them more play time. Yep, parents have to give them time to get bored. And that’s a tough balancing act each has to figure out what works for them.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My best friend was a vet assistant, and had to treat a Lakeland Terrier who had spent an entire day chasing a ball on a rough surfaced parking lot and had worn his foot pads down to nothing. The dog had played independently, with no human playing with him. He just chased the ball on his own.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The article linked in the top post had this as one solution:
    Schools around the country are integrating “play clubs” and finding great success. These clubs typically take place on school grounds for 1-2 hours directly preceding or directly following the school day. Different equipment is set out for kids to play and experiment with at their leisure, and adult supervisors (of which there are not an abundance) are trained only to intervene when something truly dangerous is occurring. Gray recently observed an elementary school play club that takes place prior to the school day once a week (though they’re trying to make it more frequent) and was delighted with the result.

    “Free play indoors in the school and outdoors, it’s age mixed, all grades K-5…It’s working wonderfully. It’s working partially because the age mixing. Older children are helping to solve the quarrels among younger children,” Gray says. “Children are truly running in hallways, wrestling, playing chasing games, some old-fashioned games, very vigorous play. Here’s a situation where there are adults present, but the adults are initiating actives (and) they’re not intervening. I was there for an hour, there were 150 kids, and I did not see any single case of adult intervening. It went so remarkably well.”

    For more on “play clubs”, here’s one called Let Grow Play Club:

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I think it’s best to kick children out of the home as often as possible. This teaches self-reliance and nothing strengthens people more than that. Kick them out! And watch them grow(while sipping a beer). Haha.


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