Play Is a Child’s Work

2 boys“I’m bored.”

“There is nothing to do.”

These comments are heard way too often from children today. In our world with small nuclear families, where we likely live far away from extended family, don’t know our neighbors, and worry about protecting our children from threats of society, the spontaneity of childhood is diminished. Play dates have to be scheduled. Children expect adults to provide activities to entertain them.  Contrast this with an agrarian society where children were first expected to do their chores and free time was easily filled with a diverse number of activities and interests. Even if they felt bored they were not likely to admit it lest they be assigned another chore.

Today kid’s lives are frequently too structured.  Children at times are scheduled very heavily into different adult-driven activities. They are too often given unlimited access to TV and electronic games. While these might have a place in a child’s life, the right balance needs to be developed. Children need to be able to explore and figure out things on their own and to be spontaneous without being directed by an adult.

Children’s play is their work. Children learn problem-solving skills, how to cooperate, how to get along with others and about their environment.  They develop creativity and reasoning skills. They benefit when they make their own choices within boundaries of safety.  Kids are not “just playing.”  They are developing emotionally, intellectually, socially and physically through their play.

I am not advocating that we go back to the ’50’s although I have a feeling of nostalgia for having grown up then.  I don’t want to give up my GPS which for this directionally challenged person is the single greatest development of recent years.  But certain facets of today’s lifestyle do negatively affect children.

What did kids do in previous days with their unstructured time?

There might have been dramatic role-playing imitating people or places they were familiar with: playing dress-up; playing house; playing store or office or farming or library or gardening or school (my personal favorite).  There might be spontaneous art projects.  Bike riding.  Going for walks.  Exploring. Making nature “pies” from assorted objects found on walks. Reading. Collecting bugs or rocks or flowers or leaves. Skipping rocks.  Jumping rope. Cops and robbers. Blowing dandelions.  Looking for a 4 leaf clover.  Catching tadpoles in a jar.  Or ladybugs. Climbing trees.

Then there were more organized games which still could be rather spontaneous.  Do these sound familiar? Follow the leader. Hide and seek. Farmer in the dell. Marbles. Hop scotch. 4 square. Tag. Hot potato. Red light green light. Kick the can. Jacks. Mother may I? (or Captain, may I?). Statues. Duck, duck, goose. Button, button, who has the button? Simon says. Ring around the rosy. London bridge is falling down. Leap frog. There were spontaneous games of baseball, touch football, kickball.

There were some popular recess games.  A few from the ’50’s were Annie, Annie Over, Fox and Geese, and Red Rover.  [Directions for these games follow this post.]

Do these activities sound familiar? What other childhood activities of yours could be added to this list? What additional things can we encourage today’s children to try?  Let us help children to regain some of the spontaneity that is lost.

More child’s play, just another thread of my life.

[This post is a continuation of last week’s post Child’s Play and a previous post Childhood Memories.  It was partially inspired by comments made by these bloggers: Walking My Path, Amie Writes, Susieshy45, Noms Blog in a Teacup, Faraday’s Candle, Storm’s Stitches, Your Invisible Touch, Badfish out of Water, Day by Day, and Mind Master Jedi.  I thank them for their inspiration.  Read their comments on the link provided above and check out their websites.]

Directions for a few games:

Annie, Annie Over.  Sometimes called Andy, Andy Over.  In this game there would be two teams.  The only equipment required was a ball and a building with a gable roof–a country school-house, a shed, a garage.  One team was stationed on each side of the building.  A player from one side would try to throw the ball over the building yelling, “Annie, Annie Over.”  If the ball didn’t make it over the roof, they would yell “Pigtail.”  If the ball made it over, someone on the other side would catch it.  The team that had thrown the ball had to run around the building and attempt to return to its own side. Meanwhile the team that had received the ball tried to throw it at the other team’s players as they passed. If a player was hit they were “captured” by the other team and had to stay on that team. The game would continue with the opposite team throwing the ball. The game was over when all players were on the same team.

Fox and Geese.  This game required snow. The children first stomped through the snow making a path that was a round circle with a hub in the center and four spokes. Most of the children were “geese” and start in the hub in the center of the circle. One player was the “fox”. The fox wandered around the the spokes and the outer rim of the wheel. The geese had to run out on one spoke and around part or all of the rim and run back in another spoke to the hub, trying to avoid being caught by the fox who would try to catch the geese. The hub was safe and a goose could not be captured while he was in the hub. When the fox caught a goose, the goose became a fox and then helped catch other geese.

Red Rover.  Players were divided into two teams who form two lines facing each other. Each team holds hands or links elbows. One team starts by saying, “Red Rover, Red Rover send Junior right over.” They would name a child from the other team. The child who was selected runs full speed and tries to break through the other line. If he successfully breaks through he picks a member of the other team to join his team. If he fails to break through he is captured by the other team and remains with them. Each team takes turns calling someone over until everyone ends up on one team.


17 thoughts on “Play Is a Child’s Work

  1. Camille March 5, 2015 / 2:36 pm

    I’m a ’90s kid and technology has begun its hold on the youth then, but I agree whole-heartedly with this post.

    While [TV & electronic games] might have a place in a child’s life, the right balance needs to be developed.

    I miss visiting extended family and playing games with my many cousins in the Philippines. We used to play a lot of the games you’ve mentioned, as well as Patintero, Block-1-2-3 (a variation of Capture the Flag), “ten-twenty”, hide-and-seek under the moon or inside the house, langit-lupa (heaven-and-earth, a version of tag where high ground is safe from the It), touch ball (or monkey-in-the-middle or dodge ball), luksong tinik or luksong baka (similar to leap frog), …

    Man, I wish I was a kid again. Life was just so carefree. … Well, not entirely. We worried about who are playmates are, what game we should play, who’s cheating, who’s injured, what time we could go out, until what time we could stay out, who the leader is, … Play really is a child’s work.

    Too bad nowadays even if we encourage our children to spend less time on their electronic devices, they wouldn’t have the same options we did because all the other kids are still busy with their electronic devices.

    Maybe we could start “structuring” free time for all kids in school and/or the neighbourhood to just be active and interactive. I’d say more like an after-school program? (I’ve seen a number of schools in which recess is still the same as when we were in school). God, I can’t wait to be a teacher and be a positive force in children’s lives.


    Liked by 3 people

    • susieshy45 March 5, 2015 / 3:25 pm

      I grew up in an in-between time- in the 1970s. There were still green fields in the cities, where we could play ball or chase a few cows or goats grazing or carry a baby sheep in our hands and feel its soft fur. In the dry gutters, sometimes we would find a stray mother dog with her little babies, all looking up at us in perhaps surprise or fear. It was still possible to be sent to the shops to buy groceries for our mothers and perhaps even a candy if there was spare change. Though we were warned about strangers and talking to unknown people, we were not wary of smiling at people we didn’t know and we often got a sweet smile in return.
      We visited children’s houses in our neighbourhood and even out of our neighbourhood, sometimes houses of friends of our friends- we took a lot of risks but generally nothing happened.
      We celebrated all festivals, festivals of not our own religion and enjoyed them as well as the ones whose festival it was.
      Those days were carefree because our parents were there to take charge of our lives should something have gone wrong and generally nothing did- perhaps because we were not so technologically oriented in those days and didn’t get to know much of what happened in the next city or even another state.
      We invented games when we could and played in mud a lot. I think rolling in mud and making mud-pies is a very big part of growing up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good Woman March 5, 2015 / 7:59 pm

        I enjoyed your response. Thanks for commenting. It is interesting to read about the things you did in the ’70’s. Have those things changed for today’s children? I do worry about the need to be so protective over kids today because of perceived threats. I know I felt I had to be much more restrictive with my own daughter than my parents were with me.


    • Good Woman March 5, 2015 / 7:56 pm

      Camille, i missed dodge ball on my list. That was something I always enjoyed. So true that we think of a child’s life as carefree but they have their worries too. Play is work! Good luck with your teaching career–glad to see that enthusiasm.


  2. hirundine608 March 5, 2015 / 3:12 pm

    Must say that, we as children sixty years ago. Would echo that same phrase.

    Though we roamed the streets, parks and fields of North London; almost at will. We used to get the same lectures then too. Don’t talk to strangers, who are you with, be home by this time, etc. Did we listen? Enough to not get into too much trouble. As I suspect the children before us, did too.

    Are children today deprived of the same experience? Well, I hope not?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good Woman March 5, 2015 / 8:03 pm

      I was probably to quick to insinuate that kids were never bored back in my days. I just know that for us growing up on a farm with all of our chores we personally were never bored. That should not have led me to indicate that none of my contemporaries were ever bored. I don’t know about today’s kids all over, but I do know that especially in many cities kids are very restricted. With the extremely mobile society people don’t know their neighbors so parents do not trust that children will be safe if they go out on their own. That is not a happy development.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. susieshy45 March 5, 2015 / 3:28 pm

    A lovely post and so full of truth- I suggest you write an op-ed about this and send it to a daily. It is really good and so full of wisdom.


    • Good Woman March 5, 2015 / 8:04 pm

      Thanks for your praise. At this point I am not likely to write an op-ed piece but I appreciate the thought.


  4. busy lady March 5, 2015 / 8:57 pm

    I remember the 50’s and the 40’s. We did a lot of spontaneous things which I don’t happening today. It is sad. But it would be difficult to get back to that for most families because of TV and video games!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good Woman March 7, 2015 / 3:40 am

      I agree that it might be difficult but maybe if parents can be educated about how children’s development can be affected, maybe it will make a difference. I can hope for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. samanthamacmaster March 5, 2015 / 10:48 pm

    I used to wander all over in the ’70s by myself from the tender ages of 8 or 10. I rambled around my granparents NJ neighborhood, biked with my cousins, went to the library and movies myself. I read about those parents who let their children (together) walk home 2 blocks from a park and it was determined that it was illegal–in some fashion. They aren’t sure what charges will be yet. Nonsense. In reality there are not that many more dangers now (there are studies on it), but they are much more publicized, rumors are started on facebook, and every parent jumps at every shadow. I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t pay attention, but there should be a reasonable area where children can be children. And play games
    I loved Simon Says, and don’t forget Red light Green light. I kicked butt at Tag too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good Woman March 7, 2015 / 3:45 am

      Part of the problem is that we don’t know people around us as often, so we lose the sense of community that gives everyone a sense of security. I agree children need to be able to be children.


      • samanthamacmaster March 7, 2015 / 1:02 pm

        That is a very good point. People need to get a neighborhood feel, instead of relying on technology to make connections. Present company excluded, of course!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good Woman March 7, 2015 / 1:13 pm

          Agreed. There is a place for technology, but it should not take over our lives.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Sara Moser March 6, 2015 / 3:01 pm

    Great article! Kids today have so much yet they are so deprived! There is a trend among some younger parents to be more aware, and limit their children’s “screen time”, etc. My daughter is what is known as a “crunchy mama” (yeah, right?), part of a movement back to natural and organic. Her 14 month old daughter is “100% organic” – still breastfed, organic foods, only screen time is when she gets to video chat with me (mostly I talk). It will be interesting to see how the generation that is just being born now will react and respond to their culture as it evolves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good Woman March 7, 2015 / 3:49 am

      Great line that “kids have so much yet they are so deprived.” I hope the trend you describe catches on. My husband would not allow my daughter to have Nintendo or Play Station or whatever was fashionable. She used to tell me that when she went to her friends she was the only one who had no success playing those games because she had no practice with them. But now at age 26 she tells us she thinks we were right to deny her that because she used to read and play other things and develop in ways that her contemporaries know nothing about. Always good to have affirmed that you did something right (or actually that you did a lot of things right). I hope parents do become aware of issues with electronics and too much structured time.

      Liked by 1 person

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