“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
George Bernard Shaw
Last week following a share of Suzi Tench’s post – Top 10 Free (or cheap) Things to Do in the Summer Holidays – l have further read a couple of interesting articles concerning how children no longer play anymore or even have imaginery friends – preferring to be self absorbed in devices. This made me think back on my own childhood and what l ‘got up to’ that my parents both knew about and what they didn’t?
Children aged between 2 – 10 these days spend more time involved in screen activities than they do outside or even indoors playing normal imagination games. When you read the figures themselves you suddenly find yourself thinking back to your childhood, thinking we were luckier to have enjoyed our childhoods the way we were able to. We had more of a connection to the outside world than kids do these days.
On average, only 11 hours are spent outside each week in comparison to 15+ hours engaged in screen time?
It’s astonishing l feel that this is the way childhood seemingly is travelling. I know today that l was on the spectrum with my Asperger’s yesterday as a child, but l didn’t know that when l was a child. Sure l was geekier than most of my peers, l wargamed, l read books, l took photos, l drew, l wrote … but also l played outside with my friends.
I made dens and climbed trees and l went outside with my mates and we adventured on the canals and got up to mischief. At school with my friends l was involved in strange outdoor action imagined games when on breaktimes, that involved groups of us lining up and running towards the challenger who would pretend to fire a cannon, or a bow and arrow and we had to think of really creative ways to die and be the all time winner of ‘slow motion death scenes!’
I remember playing hide and seek and with girls too, marbles and sometimes losing my best ones to the all time clever sod, but winning them back next day! I remember the girls playing hopscotch on chalked outlines and jumping ropes and singing all sorts of made up songs whilst doing so, or playing jacks. A classic was ‘Simon Says’, plus also the game of Freeze, where if you were tagged you had to remain frozen in the position you were tagged in until someone else tagged you again!
When l was about 11 l used to play the hand clap games like Patty Cake and l was fast, like shit off a shovel. My friends used to laugh at me, and say it was a Girl’s Game, except when l challenged them and oh they how they laughed until they were beaten. So they would counter challenge to the boys version of the game which was to ensure your hands never got slapped … again they would lose.
Sure even then l was considered a little bit odd, but l still had friends and we still played games, and we were outside doing it. We got muddy and dirty just by playing, we literally drank water from the hose and we lived to tell the tales!! We sometimes stayed out late, and usually in the summer holidays we would all get together and talk, and occasionally l was allowed out on bike rides with my friends and we would go to town … l say occasionally, because l was always getting into scrapes with my clumsy behaviour – but my best mates made sure l wasn’t that accidental with them! They had to, they knew my mother would kill them – ha ha!
“Play is so integral to childhood that a child who does not have the opportunities to play is cut off from a major portion of childhood.”
But kids no longer engage in these kinds of activities anymore preferring to only look at a screen.
I read last year that childhood depression and anxiety levels are up to extraordinary levels, and this many say is due to the lack of creative playtime. I have to be honest and say that when young, l don’t recall hearing about depression and self harm amongst kids of my age.
“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.”
I was bullied quite a bit at school, and that made me low at times, but in comparison to what was meted out at home by my own father, school was seen as a blessing and a doddle! But l was outside more all the time. Despite everything and often a strict and disciplined home life – my mother thoroughly encouraged outside play – she wanted her children to enjoy their childhood, whilst we had it
Yet it seems the focus these days is not on raising and allowing creativity in children, but attempting to raise geniuses and hugely successful ones at that! Creativity and imagination almost have to take a back seat in favour of routines and structured organization when it comes to free time, and if not that – then the allowance is for unregulated screen times to stimulate the brain?
I am grateful for being a child when l was, as it allowed me to develop into a person, a free thinker, my creative imagination was allowed to roam and discover and l was able to find out what made me tick and what l enjoyed when allowed to be me.
My father well he was different, if he had his own way l would have been in military school somewhere or boarding school, but then he wasn’t really involved in my growing up as much as he believed. He liked to occasionally take part in some table top wargaming as this was strategy and a ‘thing that boys did!’
When younger, he didn’t really play, at his own concession he would say he had very little ‘creative imagination’, but my mother was always actively involved with me as a youngster in helping me read and write, and discover things in the garden or just outside. She was the one who would help with the building of forts and castles with the furniture of the house – she allowed me more to enjoy less formality when playtime and having my friends around.
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”
Kay Redfield Jamison
She encouraged me to use my voice when l was even younger and playing with my best friends, Henry Bear and Mickey Mouse and whilst l never had an imaginery friend per se, l was allowed to be thoroughly creative in other ways. [Might explain why l talk to myself more these days than real people haha!!]
But these days, it appears many a time that children are encouraged to NOT allow freedom of imagination and creative thought to be part of their playtimes. Now entertainment arrives only in the forms of tablets, computers and television screens and that children are no longer being given the rights to exercise their own minds into solving boredom issues by themselves? Everything can be solved with screen time. Digital technology is now the prime go to for children to stimulate their brains … such a strange world we live in.
So, two questions for you …
Did you have an imaginery friend when younger and what kind of playtime activity did you get up to?
Do you think that ‘classic playtime’ over ‘modern playtime’ is essential or detrimental to children today?
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”