All Play is Not Equal

If you’re reading this article, you want kids to “play.” Furthermore, you want that play to be “unstructured,” or, as I prefer to say, “unsupervised.”

Play researcher Stuart Brown says that it is, by definition, purposeless and all-consuming. Another play researcher, Peter Gray, writes, “activity oriented toward intrinsic goals, almost by definition, is play.”

Let’s face it, folks, this is all pretty vague. The truth is that all play, even within those definitions, is not equal. Far from it.

Certainly, there are certain behaviors that I hope to see when my kids play. However, because I believe play must be “freely chosen” in order to be truly beneficial, I can’t force my kids down a certain path. All I can do is prepare their environment and their minds, clear out distractions that might keep them from playing, and let them go.

So, I have to be patient and wait for a day when my kids do something extraordinary in their play.

This past Saturday was one such day. I took my son Marco (7) to a local park, where he ran into a couple friends from school. Together with a fourth boy, they threw a football around for a bit, and then they started to play a sort-of football game with a lot of improvised rules.

Then, they jettisoned the football and began playing a sort of team keep-away game with a rotten orange. They bantered a great deal about rules and interpretations. They really got into the game, playing with abandon.

I was ecstatic. I felt like years of free play were paying off for Marco. Why?

Marco and those other boys were organizing and creating and ruling and interpreting, all on their own, on the fly, as a group. At 7 years of age, they were doing the same things that the best entrepreneurs or CEOs do, and they were doing it very well. And, they were having a fabulous time doing it.

Yes, I want my kids to have happy childhoods. No, I don’t care if they win lots of trophies.

However, I do want them to be competent, creative people. I believe that by playing a lot, every day, they can get there best, and be happy at the same time.

I got a wonderful glimpse of this on Saturday. That’s all I need…

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