Child’s play

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Yesterday’s NYT Book Review featured an interesting piece by Dominique Browning about the history of childhood. Writing about Howard Chudacoff’s new book, Children At Play, Browning comments: “You would think that child’s play is a spontaneous and natural affair. Quite the opposite. It has long been shaped by a convergence of many forces from styles of clothing to the design of houses to social revolutions and by simple demographics like the proportion of children to adults at any given time.”

Recently, it seems, there’s been a slew of parental hand-wringing about how overscheduled and unimaginitive our children’s lives have become (sports lessons, piano lessons, supplemental tutoring). We also worry about the effects of too much television and technology. Books like Conn and Hall Iggulden’s Dangerous Book for Boys have climbed the best-seller lists by offering tips and strategies for rugged, outdoor play, from how to build a treehouse to how to skip stones (activities that pale in comparison, a friend of mine insists, to the sorts of things HE did when he was a child). After years of overscheduling, the pendulum may be swinging back in the opposite direction.

Personally, I can’t help but think that that correction is a good thing though it’s difficult to eat our cake and have it, too, when it comes to making sure our kids do well in an increasingly competitive school environment. But I also agree with Browning’s conclusion that we need to lighten up and stop worrying so much. “Kids are wily creatures,” she points out. “They figure out how and where and when to play no matter what kind of control we exert.”

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