Games We Used To Play

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Free play does happen, just not as much in North America
Date: September 15 2011

by Marijke Vroomen Durning

It can't be said that we don't see children playing outside anymore, because we do. We see them at the playground, under the watchful supervision of a parent or babysitter. We see them on the sports field, where the coaches and some other parents are there to keep an eye on things. We see them in the schoolyards at recess, safely fenced off from the street. If we're lucky, we'll see children walking or cycling to school - but again, most often in the company of an adult. Children are rarely allowed to do anything by themselves anymore.

The biggest fear it seems that most parents have is that their children will get kidnapped, molested, or somehow injured by a stranger. In reaction, parents hover over their kids so this can't happen. But this danger, however remote - and it is remote in North America - has always been present. There always have been "bad guys." This isn't an issue new to the 1990s and 2000s. The reality is most harm that happens to our children is done by people they know and trust.

Of course, we want to keep our children safe. but the trick is to make it a healthy balance. According to this blog post, Going Dutch! Why Dutch kids are the happiest in the world, this balance is something parents in the Netherlands have managed to do. It's not unusual to see children riding their bikes to school, playing outside without supervision, and visiting friends' homes.

The Netherlands is not a crime-free country, but  parents there seem to have realized that the health - both physical and psychological - of their children is important enough to take some chances. That means allowing children to experience what it is like to go out on your own and play. To have fun away from the ever watchful eye of your parents. And, along with that play, will come mistakes and issues that need to be solved. But in the meantime, the children are having fun, getting exercise, and learning how to zigzag through many of the issues in life that pop up as you play.