Addicted To (Risky) Play - The Midwest Play Conference! July 01 2016, 0 Comments

The common thread through-out Lisa Murphy’s keynote at the Midwest Play Conference was that WE (as parents and educators) are “undermining experiences children are getting in the name of readiness.” 

Midwest Play Conference

This is all too true. 

What does it matter if your 6 yr old can count backwards from 100 if they haven’t developed emotional intelligence and the ability to feel empathy for others?

The decline in empathy (and resulting increase in narcissism) is striking (decline by 48% between 1979 and 2009 according to the Personality and Social Psychology Review).  Our singular academic focus on baby Einstein and flashcards, and lack of free play, I believe, contributes to this empathy gap.

By filling in rote worksheets as “proof of learning” to take home to expectant parents at the end of the day, children are missing everyday life experiences to connect with nature and others. 

A break-out session from the conference that I found particularly relevant in my own life (I have 2 spirited and active boys under 6), is the concept of “risky” play and why it’s critical.  This is not sky-diving “sign-a-waiver” risky – this is about jumping off a swing in mid-air risky – feeling that sense of fear, being able to overcome this fear, and knowing that all is OK (or mostly OK except for some minor boo-boo’s).

A little fear can be positive, and helps build resilient kids (not to mention fun: think about the last time you sledded on your stomach in the winter on a huge hill).  Kids more often times injure themselves in adult directed play vs. play they initiate on their own (yes – this is in fact true)!

One of the other important discussion topics at the conference is the concept of investing parents in the importance of free play – how can we as educators and activists do this better (parent brains are instinctively wired to think ABC’s and 1,2,3’s)? 

This workshop led by The Minnesota Children’s Museum explored how everyday physical objects can be fascinating for kids (and adults) and that this exploration builds confidence, curiosity and a sense of how things work.  None of the items we “played” with were toys – just everyday items (think applesauce tops, play-doh lids, spoons, wine bottle corks) that help fire all creative and curiosity neurons for kids. 

One of my own discoveries as an adult, is that I don’t make enough space and time for play –  I felt truly present and in the “zone” in this workshop (I didn’t have the instinctive itch to reach for my phone one time)!

Our day, I think can be best summed up in two poignant quotes:

“Improvisation is the ultimate human endowment” (Albert Murray)

“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise” (Tacitus)

Play On and Happy 4th of July weekend!