Not that they had much trouble before running around doing the things kids are supposed to do at playgrounds, parks, schoolyards, and the like. But they are city kids, and that kind of play often involves hovering parents who end up participating - whether they are asked to or not. It is supervised and structured. What it lacks is independence and imagination.
Throughout the summer break, our family was fortunate enough to spend a full week at a family camp near Yosemite, and another week at Flathead Lake in Montana.
Neither of those trips involved playgrounds or structured play of any kind. Instead, my kids were allowed time to fill up their days on their own, and safely run around untethered and unsupervised in a natural forest/lake settings with no toys, TV or electronic games (OK, there was an old VCR in Montana). And, more importantly, no hovering adults (although we were usually within walkie-talkie distance).
At family camp, they spent six days running around wild with other kids. In Montana, with the exception of a visit or two by some neighbor children, they were stuck playing with each other.
They navigated new social waters and made new friends on their own. They made bows and arrows from sticks, rubber bands and string. They caught polliwogs in nets and released them. They "fished" off the dock and skipped rocks. They played "spy" in boats and tubes on the lake. They did things I probably don't want to know about. And that's the whole point.
Children don't need parents or other adults to show them how to play. They are just fine on their own, thank you. Despite the trend toward more imaginative playgrounds like the one I wrote about a year ago here in this blog, their use of so-called "play workers," or adults who "facilitate" the play of youngsters, is just plain stupid.
There's a new book out on store shelves called "Children at Play: An American History," which lays out this argument in a far more precise and academic way. Its author, Howard P. Chudacoff, told The NYTimes yesterday that "kids should have their own world and parents are nuisances." Here, here.
This summer, I eased up, faded into the background and let my children have their own world. As a result, they are far more independent at home, and I haven't heard "I'm bored," or "I don't know what to do," or "Can you play with me Mommy?" hardly at all this summer.
Sure, the end-of-summer sibling Bickerfest is in full swing. But they don't need me to solve that either.
My kids realllllly learned to play this summer. What I reallllly learned is that sometimes, especially when play is concerned, the best parenting is invisible.
What did you learn this summer? Do your kids know how to play? Click below on "Comments" and tell us your story.