Why adults have to stop trying so darn hard to control how children play

Reblogged from the Answer Sheet

Here’s a new piece from Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England. She has written a number of popular posts on this blog, including “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today,” as well as “The right — and surprisingly wrong — ways to get kids to sit still in class” and “How schools ruined recess.” This post is the latest in her exploration of the effects on young children of limited movement. Her book, “Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children,” will be published in April 2016.

By Angela Hanscom

“Cut it out!” a little girl screams at the top of her lungs.

“Yeah!” Another girl yells. “Back away!”

I look over in the far corner of the woods to see a small group of girls holding hands and forming what looks to be a wall in front of a teepee they just created. A little boy stands in front of them with a face that is beet red. He is shaking from head to toe.

“I will NOT!” he yells back. “You have to let me play! That is the rules!” He gets dangerously close to them.

The adults observing the children look over at me with worried looks. I instruct them to observe but stay close and hidden among the trees. Secretly, I’m wondering if we should intervene now, but something tells me to wait. The little boy reaches up and tears down a piece of their tepee. “Stop it!” one of the girls yells. They don’t back down. A few more girls come and form a wall with them. The little boy suddenly reaches into their tepee and grabs the “jewels” they have hidden in there and takes off running.

The girls let go of each other’s hands and start chasing after him. They run around and around the trees in hot pursuit of the little boy. He finally comes to a stop and turns to face them. He holds out his hand and says, “FINE! Have them!” He returns the stolen jewels, stomps off, and finally sits down in front of an old oak tree – sulking. The girls resume playing “house” in their tepee.

Not even two minutes pass before one of the girls from the tepee group walks over to where the boy is sitting. She does something that surprises every adult watching. She sits down beside him. She looks him in the eye and starts talking in a quiet voice. He begins to raise his voice again. She patiently puts her hand up and waits for him to stop shouting. He becomes silent. A few minutes later, they get up. She reaches for his hand and leads him over to the group of girls at the tepee. He says something to them and they invite him to play. Read more>>