Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Playground

Last week, I attended the The Sandbox Summit at MIT, a conference about the people, products, and policies that empower 21st Century Kids.

I had not expected to enjoy the conference as much as I did because I consider it part of my 'job' to learn about how kids are learning and playing in the digital age. Just the thought of studies about the 'passback effect' and 'user generated content' and all the buzzwords I hear every day, made me want to pull my hair out.

But from the very first moments sitting at the breakfast table before the conference, when I unknowingly sat next to Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the US Dept. of Education, I became fascinated by just how many different people are out there trying to develop the right content for kids. Just how many parents, teachers, principals, game designers, publishing companies, toy companies, even President Obama telling us our education system is broken, that we are in a national crisis-- all of these people are, literally, worrying themselves sick over how to connect with kids in a meaningful way while they are so plugged in.

And there I am, trying to figure out what that means for preschoolers, the little ones I write content for at work. And what that means for me, as I try to write for a teen audience and connect with them through the pages of a book or an e-reader, or maybe it'll have to be an app, or a microchip that I install in their brain the day they are born that will automatically download my novel into their subconcious at the exact moment they are developmentally able to handle what I have to say.

I determined that we're all sending more and more information their way at such a rapid and challenging pace, and expecting them to process it faster and better than any generation before it, in a way that allows them to change the world.

I mean, talk about pressure.

And I don't mean, for us. I mean, for them.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things I learned at this conference is that children are craving more time to play. That play is this elusive thing, just out of reach. That it is overscheduled, overanalyzed, that it must be safe and indoors where parents can keep track of it and monitor it, that it must squeeze it's way between everything else we are throwing at them on a daily basis.

And this makes me sad.

I was the kid who woke up and went outside and did not go back indoors until my mother called for me at 9pm. I was the kid who biked in thunderstorms. Who came home green-stained, thirsty, and hungry, whining, while my mother attempted to untangle my hair with a comb.

And, so, like everybody else, I am worried. I am not going to lie.


  1. My husband and I have talked about this before, how we don't see kids outside playing that much, definitely not like when we were younger. Sometimes I worry that kids have so much "stuff," they'll forget how to use their imaginations.

  2. "I was the kid who woke up and went outside and did not go back indoors until my mother called for me at 9pm. I was the kid who biked in thunderstorms. Who came home green-stained, thirtsy, and hungry, whining, while my mother attempted to untangle my hair with a comb."

    Yep, so was I. And I'm worried about them too. They have way too much information in front of them! Even in the English Language Teaching books I write, there is more and more demand for referrences to electronic gadgets. For example, in a book I'm working on now, there is this box that focuses on some key grammar points, and you know what it's called? Language Upload. Sheesh. Slow down! It's like people actually WANT to upload their brains with information like a computer!

  3. Yes. Exactly. This is a wonderful point. Kids really do need that time to just be kids. I think they are being forced to grow up way too early and not being able to enjoy just being silly and carefree! Excellent post!!

  4. So interesting. This is my concern on a daily basis for my kids. I was like you. Playing, playing, playing. So much to do outside and so little time to do it all in. I didn't worry about scrapes or getting hurt. I just played. And now the world has changed, and that whole idea of free time to play is disappearing. Very sad.

  5. wow. something i haven't given a lot of thought to. i left teaching- 1st grade- about 10 years ago. and in that 10 years, i know so much has changed, technology-wise. so i can't imagine how different things are now...
    i do hope we all, not just kids, but all of us, get back to more simple stuff-- playing outside, hanging out with real, live friends, sidewalk chalk, etc!!!

  6. "Play is this elusive thing..." I agree: children have been structured until they doubt their own creativity. Children need to be given their own time, to create their own play.
    So glad you are on the side of reason. Best of luck.

  7. I agree that kids need to play more. When I first started teaching in the late 80's we had two recesses a day. When I stopped teaching a few years ago, we had one 20 minute recess. If someone was in trouble or didn't have their work done they missed some kids had no recess on a regular basis. :(

  8. tracy (single) keeseeMay 15, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    i could not agree more.. as a mom of a preschooler and infant, i see this every day. our generation enjoyed lots of free play, where this generation of children are too often engaged in overscheduled and structured play. i am not going to see that i a stranger to gymboree, mommy and me, or dance class.. my daughter, at the age of 4, asked me to take a dance class. she LOVES it and i am thrilled to be able to give her that experience. with summer coming, i am listening to all the other moms in her preschool talk about making sure their child has some activity scheduled EVERY day, so that the child "gets out of the house." i have made the decision to not schedule anything this summer. nothing. we will spend our summer in our backyard, at the beach, and on playdates... no classes... we will go back to all that in the fall, when bailey will start cheerleading, tap/ballet, and kindergarten.. but for this summer.... for this summer, we will have an old school summer -- just right for a child!