To Score or not to Score

When did parents get so involved in their children’s play?  Was it when the child’s connections to other children was only through the connections of the parents?  Was it when the neighborhood expanded beyond safe walking distance?  Was it when SVU became a popular show?  Was it when fear became the emotional default?  This is disturbing.  We teach children “Stranger Danger” and yet most kidnappings and abuse are perpetrated by someone the children know and trust.

So the “good mommy” schedules play dates when she and the mother of her toddler’s friend sit on the same bench and the kids play in the park.  It would be closer to the Mom and her friend get together in the park and the kids play, not necessarily with each other.  In fact if you watch 2 year olds play, they get interested in a toy and take it and the other toddler cries.  Then moms intervene and tell the toddlers they have to share.  Underlying message:  Anything you want to explore can and will be taken by someone else before you finish exploring it.

“Ooooo!  Ball!  Round, shiny, tastes like…hey?  Give that back!  I hadn’t seen if it bounced or if it was cold on my mouth or if it rolled in the sand!”

“Todd?  You have to share.  Now be a good boy and explore this toy.”

“I don’t want to explore THAT toy.  That’s a toy I already know about.  Waaaaahhhhh!”  Mom gets embarrassed by child’s reaction and gives toddler a good talking to.  What?

“None of these toys are yours, you must give them happily to someone else when they want them.”  They call this socialization.  I call it stupid.

Then, at age 4, kids should be playing in organized sports with coaches and rules and uniforms.  The only dressing up 4 year old kids do has to do with their imagination.  I’m a cowboy, you’re an Indian.  I’m a cop, you’re a robber.  I’m a princess, you’re another princess, and he’s a toad.  I’m Superman and you’re Batman.  If you want kids to play with a ball, give them a ball and let them go to the park to play with it.  Kids make up games and will soon be kicking and throwing and chasing the ball all over the park, without your help and without a coach and without a 12 pound rule book and uniforms.  What do they learn from just playing with the ball?  They make rules they all agree on, they organize into us vs them, but there’s no audition process.  There may not be a goal to the game…no points tallied.  Who can bounce this ball the highest?  Who can bounce this ball and run to that tree before someone catches it?  Who can sit on this ball the longest?  Really stupid games, but fun because the kids are exploring teams and skills.

What if what these 4 year olds just want to climb on the equipment and go down the slide?  What if they want to examine the dandelions in the field?  We don’t have to manage that.  Let them play.  Remember Tag?  Remember Red Rover?  Remember races?  How about jumping rope?  Playing catch?  Playing house or school?  4 square anyone?  We had whole afternoons warring our stuffed animals with invisible evil stuffed animals.

So now,

  • Kids don’t make the rules
  • They don’t choose the field
  • They play with kids they don’t know
  • They get dressed up in silly costumes
  • They have to go to organized practices
  • Without a really good concept of My Team and Their Team, what good is scoring?  So there’s no score or tally
  • Parents are yelling at them or for them so it’s a performance

What benefit to the child is the play?  It isn’t self-guided.  It may not address the current interests of the child or their understanding of the world.  It doesn’t teach kids to read other kids and adults, so they really don’t get to the point where they can tell whom to trust and who might be a good friend or a dread enemy.

Adults dress up cats and dogs for crying out loud.  We teach our kids that in order to play they have to have a certain wardrobe.  That’s ridiculous.  We had our fun, and then we grew up.  We don’t play childish games any more…We pay better people millions of dollars to play games that we only watch.  Well it doesn’t have to be that way.  Is there an age limit on hop scotch or jumping rope?  Yes, yes there is.  You’re knees will tell you when to stop.  Can you still play chess and checkers?  Of course.  Can you still play softball with your buddies?  Why not?  Do people still bowl?  Statistics show that the popularity of that sport is going up, though some might consider it recreation rather than a sport.  But there are teams and people keep score…  What would Thanksgiving be without the family football game after the Turkey Coma?

If your child is too young to experience the sting of defeat, why do you have him/her enrolled in a competitive sport?  There are no prizes for just showing up in anything.  Hey!  John has shown up for work 2 months in a row!  Go get the balloons and the cake!  Oscar has shown up to practice for a whole week…never gets off the bench and cannot do any of the necessary skills, should we start him?

YOU DON’T NEED A LEAGUE, A COACH, SCHEDULED GAMES AND SPECTATORS TO PLAY GAMES!  Let the kids decide if they want to keep score.

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