Why one alum is part of a growing movement to bring play back into the lives of children
by Lory Hough
Child building a fort
In some ways, this headline is almost funny, the idea of a young Einstein, wild hair flying, throwing his mother’s quilt over a couple of chairs and crawling underneath.
But to Elizabeth Goodenough, M.A.T.’71, a headline like this is not a joke. We’re a busy-by-design society that’s become so concerned with turning kids into baby Einsteins that something critical to childhood, something that Goodenough holds sacred, is fast becoming extinct: free play.
She says that all you have to do is drive around American cities and towns to see for yourself; there are very few kids outside.
This is why Goodenough raised money to start a project called Where Do the Children Play? which includes a PBS documentary that will air in the fall, as well as a companion book and website. In addition, with a coalition of national children’s organizations, she hopes to start a national dialogue about the issue. The project, which grew out of her earlier book called Secret Spaces of Childhood, is aimed at raising public awareness about the critical importance of play. Beyond the obvious — play helps kids stay in shape — it also promotes creativity and teaches skills such as negotiating and how to be around others.
“Play takes many forms. It may be best defined from within as a spontaneous human expression that relies on imagination and a sense of freedom,” Goodenough says. “Players invent alternative contexts for conversation, visualization, movement, and interaction with real objects. They discover release and engagement, stimulation, and peace. Although play can arise anywhere, even in a cement cell, children are naturally beckoned by the living world to enjoy perception and the sensations of being alive.”
And Goodenough, a lecturer in comparative literature at the University of Michigan, isn’t alone in understanding the importance of this. The headlines calling for more play and less structure are endless. There are also a small but growing number of child development experts, medical researchers, space planners, and other educators focusing on this issue in an attempt to keep play from slipping even further from the lives of children.
How We Got Here
It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that one of the biggest factors in the loss of free play has to do with parents being programmed by the ever-expanding “baby educating industry” into thinking that in order to survive in today’s global economy, kids need to be better, brighter, and busier than ever before.
“It’s a competitive foot race from the womb, this sense that you’ll miss out,” Goodenough says. “Adults have picked up the pace so quickly. What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?” READ MORE AT Harvard.Edu