As I was waiting for an appointment today, I had my old-new book with me. (old because I used to have many copies of this book, but loaned them all out. It was too good not to share.) The book is titled “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. It’s about nature being essential for a child’s healthy emotional and physical development. The receptionist asked me what the book was about and we got into a discussion of children playing (or not) today. He mentioned how fortunate children are here in the U.S.V.I versus stateside because they can play outside everyday. But are they? We may have beautiful weather everyday, but the trends that are stateside are also here: too much screen time, too many scheduled activities and not enough outdoor play just to name a few.
As an advocate for free play, I stated, “Children may have more opportunities to be outside here, but there are too many activities going on after school.” When children finish school, they are often whisked off to dance, swimming, karate, soccer. This is a recent trend happening within the last decade. Scheduled activities do not equal free, uninhibited, creative play. Too many scheduled, structured activities are not good for young children. When is the down time?
The receptionist stated, “Well, my son doesn’t do well with non-structured activities.” Huh? (That’s my mind) “Why do you think that is?” (That’s me talking)
But as I’m asking the question, I know why it is. It’s because children need to learn how to be in UNstructure. It doesn’t just come naturally. Children who are used to being directed sometimes have a difficult time getting into their own play mode. What’s more, his son is not being offered the opportunity to gain the self regulation-inspiration-motivation-or interest to find-create-dream-make-do-formulate-invent things on his own.
Flash forward twenty years. The future jobs of America will be for individuals who can think of new ways to do the same old thing. Employers will look for the people who can innovate, create, explore with ideas. A major player in the teaching of creativity and innovativeness is down time, otherwise known as Unstructured time. It is when we have long stretches of time when our minds are clear and we get a burst of new ideas. People might just have this whole thing backwards. When children can roam in an enviornment that doesn’t limit or direct their thinking, without people telling them what to do and how to do things, they are not just able to think for themselves, but they are pushed to be creative.
Yesterday we returned from our adventure hike and had a little down time before going inside for lunch. So two three year olds invented a game “What’s Behind My Back?” Holding random objects (a cup, a pan from the sandbox, a stick) behind their backs, they asked me over and over again, “What’s behind my back?” “Ummm…a hippopotamus” Then they revealed the object with giggles. A simple, made-up game by three year olds.
Flash forward twenty years.