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April 19, 2010

Childhood Fading Inside

Hopscotch The playground can be an almost mythical place in our childhood memories. On the playground friendships are forged and broken and mended again (usually stronger). Rapidly beating hearts jump from taboo shocks as mouths mutter words they shouldn't. Games are learned that help kids find the edge of fear, frustration, and anger, all with the knowledge that everyone will be saved by the bell.

Of course, there are trials too. Bullies occasionally use the playground as a sparring ring. Sometimes, those bullies even serve a useful purpose, helping to make us stronger, learn that not everyone is our friend, or just bruise less easily. Most of all, on the playground legends are told, and retold, heroes and villains are born. Monsters, rotten eggs, and "it" lives eternal. On the blacktop, the most basic of survival skills like avoiding conflict, knowing when to say no, and figuring out who you can trust  are practiced within a pocket of time and space, and with the safety net of a watchful adult.

That's how it used to be. According to noted paladin for play, David Elkind, the playground isn't magical any more. In a New York Times Op-Ed Sunday, Elkind described a new educational position that is gaining support through an $18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The position of "recess coach" is spreading across the country. A recess coach is charged with being a caring adult who helps kids learn and play on the school playground. Elkind, who has long fought for the protection of unstructured play time for kids is actually supporting the new position because, as he says, "recess coaching is a vastly better solution than eliminating recess in favor of more academics."
 

I tend to agree with Dr. Elkind. Many schools continue to react to the current No Child Left Behind law by limiting time kids play outdoors during a time when they need it most. Saturated with computers, television and video games, many of our kids these days don't learn how to play. We must teach them tag, hopscotch, and double dutch, (you should see me trying to model that one) and let them know it's okay to draw on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. What do you think? Is teaching children to play robbing them of their first taste of independence or is it an integral part of molding them into economically viable citizens?

Image: http://www.tvscoop.tv/e4/2.html

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