Working on child’s play

Play isn’t just something kids do for fun, writes Ann Hulbert on Slate. It’s something adults try to engineer for the good of the children.

“Promoting group synergy and innovation is the goal” of a “next-generation” playground being designed in New York City.

‘Play is not optional for kids,” (designer David) Rockwell told the New York Times, in an article announcing plans for the more free-form play area with movable parts, to be staffed by “play workers” trained to facilitate the best use of them; “play is how children learn to build community, how they learn to work with other people, it’s how they learn to kind of engage their sense of creativity … to understand that they can control their own environment.”

Well, not really. The adults in charge of the playground.

Children don’t spend much time outdoors, except for organized sports, reports the Washington Post.

Concerns about long-term consequences — affecting emotional well-being, physical health, learning abilities, environmental consciousness — have spawned a national movement to “leave no child inside.”

Few children spend time in “hiking, walking, fishing, beach play and gardening,” concludes researcher Sandra Hofferth. From 1997 to 2003, children spent more time playing with computers and video games and watching television, as well as sleeping, studying and (surprisingly) reading.

Hulburt thinks The Dangerous Book for Boys is aimed at “fathers eager to embrace a rustic vision of self-reliant and resourceful childhood that few of them actually experienced — and even more eager to believe that such a vision still holds an appeal for children, too.”

But would it be a bestseller if boys weren’t interested?

About Joanne


  1. “Play workers”? Sounds like a jobs program for those people who major in Recreation in college.

    (In case anyone didn’t realize, yes, there is such a thing as a Recreation major.)

  2. ut would it be a bestseller if boys weren’t interested?

    Sure it would. Parents are the ones buying the book (my wife wants to buy it), and they’re not consulting the boys for whom they’re buying it. I’m not saying the boys won’t be interested (with a title like that, I sure would have been), but they’re not the ones shelling out the money.

  3. Modern parents are control freaks! It’s ironic that the “get back to play movement” is being instigated and designed by parents. A piece of advice: turn off the TV and video games, insist they spend a certain amount of time every day outside, and then leave them alone! Barring broken bones and property damage they are quite capable of entertaining and policing themselves. The Dangerous Book for Boys is a nostalgia creation.

  4. “Promoting group synergy and innovation”…one good way to promote innovation would be to avoid preplanning and micromanaging of all activities.

  5. Fun by Fiat. Interesting.

  6. It’s all part of the “my child has to be gifted, or at least above average for my high SES community.” So play that parents perceive as dumb is not allowed. What was one play must now teach the child something so the parents can feel the child is going to get into that Montessori preschool, that Waldorf middle school, that at least 2nd tier university.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Do they play mumble-de-peg any more? Is the boy’s rite of passage still his first pocket knife? Are boys allowed to whittle?

  8. I bought a copy for my 12 year old.

    He isn’t interested in it – it’s possible he’s too old…

  9. >to be staffed by “play workers” trained to facilitate the best use of them

    Yeah, right, that’s what kids need: some adult to show them how to play.

    Such crap.

    I do think part of this problem is that it has been too long since kids just went outside and played and that a certain amount of information that used to be passed from generation to generation of kids has been lost. When I was a kid, EVERY kid knew certain games and activities, unless you grew up in a foreign country. Even a group of kids who were strangers could spontaneously start up a game known to all of them. Now, not so much.

    It seems to me, from casual observation, that games like Red Rover, Red Light Green Light, Statues and Simon Says are all but dead. Most of them, after all, involved some form of competition and we know how that is looked down upon these days. Maybe Hide and Seek survives, I hope so, anyway.

    It’s gotten so bad that government of Wisconsin has to post the rules to Red Rover

  10. Is the boy’s rite of passage still his first pocket knife? Are boys allowed to whittle?

    No…now that would be considered a weapon and cause for expulsion from school and the neighborhood parents considering your child to be some kind of knife weilding psycho honing his knife for his next victim.

    It’s crazy out there when you think of it.

  11. Nels Nelson says:

    I’d be curious to see some statistics on how yard size has changed over the years. My parents were middle class but we always had enough room to run around, play catch, even go sledding.

    Nowadays I can’t afford a yard for my family, and even the million-dollar homes down the street barely have enough space for a lawn chair and barbeque. If I want to play outside with my daughter in a green area, we have to get in the car and drive there, so we spend most of our outdoor time in the parking lot.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    People talk about the danger of abduction, but in my opinion, that’s overblown. However, there are real dangers now that weren’t around when I was a kid. the biggest is traffic.

    When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs, there wasn’t much traffic. Most families had just one car. Now we have more cars than drivers, and there’s a lot more traffic; I’ve been back to the street I grew up on, and I’ve seen a lot more cars.

    I used to be allowed to walk over to my friends’ houses, even when I was 5 or 6. Nowadays, allowing a 5- or 6-year-old to walk to a friend’s house is courting a car accident. When I was a kid, we’d play ball in the street, and drivers would stop. Now drivers zoom right through.

    It’s not safe for younger gradeschoolers to play outside without supervision unless they are in fenced back yards, and as Nels points out above, a lot of back yards are tiny.

  13. Fred Goodwin says:

    Something tells me some of the commenters here don’t have kids.

    I do, and when I tell them to go outside and play, I get the same reaction: they don’t know what to do, and nobody else is outside.

    I think “Dangerous” can help address the first problem, but unless other kids also go outside, mine won’t stay out for long.

  14. My almost 10 year old loves the Dangerous Book for Boys. It’s full of interesting information, and things to try out. For one project, I’ve been scouring grocery stores to find alum. I can’t wait to see where this will lead.

    The book, and playing outside, are more interesting with friends. As are playgrounds, as a matter of fact. Siblings will do in a pinch.

    The adults in the article? My gut response is, “how grim.” It reminds me of the reports of “play therapy,” which also seems to be directed by adults.

  15. esunola says:

    As a child I remember having a few large appliance boxes available was all we needed to build a castle, or a city, or a spaceship, or an ocean liner. One shudders to think what we could have built with the assistance of a professionally trained staff.

  16. Margaret says:

    Fred – I guess if kids aren’t used to being outside it could take some getting used to. What about going outside with them yourself for a while, reminisce about the fun you had back in the day, and get them started? Unless you have a tiny backyard they should be able to find something to do, given enough time and some ideas.

    Of course, letting kids get bored is always a good way to get them to find something to do.