But things lately have begun to change. For several 30 minute periods each day, my wife and I now spend time play-giggling-and-jiving with our 11 week old baby son whether he's propped up on our legs batting away at his Gymini or when he's flopping around on the changing table. A ritual as joyful and informative as any I can imagine. He locks into our eyes. Tracks our stare in return. The corners of his eyes pinch back as light fills them. Face, an acrobat of expressions, takes flight. Laughter ripples becoming a tsunami of pleasure. Grinning with abandon. Hands waving in the air. Just now learning to grab his bib and pull, as he has with our fingers for weeks now. Making connections that require laughter and lunging and complete accident. In other words, play.
This reminds me of an email I received a few months ago by Ed Miller, one of the founding members of a Maryland based nonprofit (with outposts throughout the country, friends throughout the world) called the Alliance for Childhood that was mentioned in a past Child Magazine article I once blogged about back in August. What catches my attention most from Ed's email was the idea of protecting the "endangered status of children's imaginative play", especially with a little one of my own now. Especially seeing little Beckett's entire world come into focus for him through the first-attempts at play in these early weeks of his life.
Whatever happened to making mud pies?
Incrementally and almost imperceptibly, “we have completely changed the way children play,” said Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician and director of the Child Health Institute at the University of WashingtonChristakis studies children’s use of media, and he is part of a rising tide of concern about the altered landscape of children’s play. “We’re in the midst of a large, uncontrolled experiment on our children,” he said, “the effects of which we won’t know for years.”
Alliance for Childen is given nice coverage as well:
A nonprofit organization called the Alliance for Childhood is funding research into the state of play and plans to agitate for the return of play to schools. On its Web site is a “call to action” signed by 260 people, including luminaries such as pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton and writer and children’s advocate Jonathan Kozol.
The alliance also is spreading the word about “adventure playgrounds” and play-workers, both ubiquitous in England and is working with museums to mount exhibits on the now-hot topic of child’s play.
Although children have a natural gift for and drive to play, it can evaporate if not exercised. Several years ago, the alliance surveyed experienced kindergarten teachers in Atlanta about changes in play in their schools over the preceding decade. Several teachers reported that play largely had been eliminated from class and that if they gave children time for play, “they don’t know what to do. They have no ideas of their own.”
One particular portion of the article combined school/learning environment design with play. As you can imagined, it caught my attention:
Prevailing playground design doesn’t help much, either.
“It’s usually a bunch of manufactured equipment in an open space devoid of any meaningful vegetation that kids can interact with,” said Randy White, a partner in a Kansas City firm that designs play spaces. “They need chances to hide under bushes and dam up water and build with loose parts. Children want to manipulate their environment.”
White’s firm, White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group, tries to persuade clients to provide more engaging play options. That’s finally starting to catch on in the United States,"