Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Playgrounds, playtime, philosophy, and our kids

Three recent articles have had me nodding my head in agreement, from personal experience.

The first article, in the New York Times, describes how the 'nanny state' culture and political correctness are reshaping childrens' playgrounds.

Once ubiquitous in the city’s hundreds of public playgrounds, as they were around the country, the seesaws adults remember have largely vanished from the city and much of the nation because of safety concerns and changing tastes ... federal safety guidelines for playgrounds, which were created in 1981, began to limit their use ... Playgrounds that retained old seesaws were exposed to lawsuits.

. . .

“We’re child-proofing childhood,” said Milanee Kapadia, when told that these seesaws were among the last in the city. One of her 4-year-old twins has special needs, and the seesaw, which requires cooperation and coordination, is just the kind of equipment her therapists recommend.

. . .

“To adults, seesaws might look like an accident waiting to happen,” said Lauren Drobnjak, a physical therapist in Cleveland and co-author of the book “Sensory Processing 101.” But “by rapidly moving the child through vertical space,” she said, seesaws provide input to a child’s vestibular — or balance regulation — system “in a way that no other playground equipment can.” And children learn strength and coordination when they hit the ground and push themselves back up.

“A seemingly simple plaything actually provides so many important sensory experiences for kids,” she said.

There's more at the link.

"We're childproofing childhood."  That's a heck of a thing to say . . . but I think it's accurate.  When I was a kid - sub-teen, too - I would walk miles to the railway station to take a train to school, unaccompanied, or ride my bike there.  If I wanted to play in vacant lots, including some overgrown with bushes where discarded bottles and other things lurked in ambush for unwary feet, I was free to do so - and if I cut myself, it was because I didn't take sufficient care.  If you allow your kids to do any of those things today, the chances are pretty good that you'll wind up having to deal with Child Protective Services in one way or another.

The second article discusses how school recesses have become something our kids endure, rather than enjoy.

There is often no trust when it comes to free play for children, creating a highly regulated and controlled recess atmosphere. A recess that is consistently short and very restrictive allows few opportunities for healthy sensory development – leading to potential difficulties with attention, learning, and behavior.

What if we took a totally different approach to recess instead? A therapeutic approach that values the needs of the whole child and views recess as a form of prevention instead of simply time to get “energy out.” What if we let children fully move their bodies during recess time, let them get dirty, and even test out new theories? What would recess look like then?

The closest I found to doing just that was the Swanson School in Auckland, New Zealand. I had heard of its nonconventional, yet successful approach to recess through social media and was instantly intrigued. Since I was already going to be in New Zealand for TimberNook, I decided to meet Swanson’s principal, Bruce McLachlan, in person.

We spent a good hour talking over coffee about his now-famous recess. His recess has gotten international attention, because he did something radical: he got rid of the rules. And guess what? When the rules left, so did their “behavior issues.” He saw more independence, improved creativity, healthy risk-taking, less falling, better coordination, and improved attention in the classroom.

Again, more at the link.

"No trust."  Again, that resonates with me.  My parents trusted me, and our friends trusted their kids, to look after themselves.  We'd all been taught basic safety, and allowed to experience - the hard way - how disregarding that instruction would, indeed, lead to pain and suffering.  We weren't mollycoddled;  we were shown that life can bite back sometimes, and if we were stupid, that would happen more often than not.  Compare that to today's children, who often have no idea where their food comes from or how it reaches their table, and can't understand that Disneyfied, cuddly critters on the TV screen can be a whole lot more dangerous and unpredictable in real life, and you have a recipe for disaster.  Our parents trusted us to use common sense.  Today's parents seem to behave as if common sense didn't exist until one turns 21!

The third article points out that widening childrens' instruction in school has far-reaching effects.

Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study.

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.

Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students’ confidence and ability to listen to others.

. . .

The beneficial effects of philosophy lasted for two years, with the intervention group continuing to outperform the control group long after the classes had finished. “They had been given new ways of thinking and expressing themselves,”said Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF. “They had been thinking with more logic and more connected ideas.”

More at the link.

Again, on the basis of my own experience, this makes absolute sense to me.  During my primary and high school instruction, activities such as debates were normal activities within each class, not just in the more formal debating society that was a highly encouraged extracurricular activity.  Quizzes on current affairs, history, etc. were common, with each child providing a question, then a respondent being drawn at random to answer it.  Gold stars were awarded for good presentations of work, with special awards if the child was bold and brave enough to present it in front of the whole school in the hall.  Instruction looked at not only what happened, but why it happened, in many different subjects - history, mathematics, science, etc.  We were expected and encouraged to have inquiring minds, and taught to have them if we didn't respond with sufficient initiative.

More specifically, the subject of philosophy helped me a great deal later in life.  I didn't study it at school, but did two years of it as part of my first (part-time) Bachelors degree, including a course in symbolic logic.  This completely transformed my abilities in mathematics, at which I'd never been particularly good.  Suddenly my abilities in that field improved out of all recognition, to the point where I aced a computer programming aptitude test ahead of hundreds of other applicants.  I attribute all that directly to being able to visualize arguments in terms of equations, assigning symbols to premises and conclusions, and diagramming out the relationships between them.  I ascribe my success in the information technology field (including being a [small] company director by the time I reached my early 30's) to those abilities, among others.

The three articles cited above, taken together, point out the unpleasant reality that we're cocooning our kids away from the real world.  We're teaching them in an unrealistic manner about subjects that bear little or no relation to reality.  We're regimenting their lives to such an extent that they're no longer free to be themselves.  We're treating them as 'untrustworthy until proven otherwise', rather than what we should be doing, which is to accept that kids will be kids, and they will make mistakes, and sometimes they'll get hurt in the process.  That's part of life, and has to be accepted as such.  The fault is ours for failing to do so.

I don't know the answer . . . but I suspect it's a good thing I have no kids of my own.  If I did, I'd be encouraging them to do the same 'dangerous' and 'risky' things that I did as a kid - and if CPS tried to stop me, I'd emigrate, taking the kids with me, to a place where they're allowed to be themselves, no matter how risky that might be.



Thomas said...

The answer is obvious...

(15 sec video clip from Cheech and Chong)
"You get a GD job before sundown, or we're shipping you off to military school!!!..."

Basic military training, at least the way it used to be, solves a lot of the issues resulting from "cocooned" special snowflakes. Add a job to the basic military experience and you can solve a lot of problems. Correctional custodial unit solves the bad apples who think they're too bad to have to get with the program.

Grog said...

Depending on which area of the country one grew up in, this could also be an accurate answer.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

Regarding this issue, go check out Free Range Kids (sorry, no link, I am a tech neanderthals).

Anonymous said...

When neighbors call Child Protective because kids are playing in a fenced back yard but Mom is inside, I think we can find the root of the problem. Too much cotton wool because too many fears of getting sued/government intervention.


Rolf said...

Amen. Preach it! :-)
All you have to do is look at the millennial melt-downs post-election and you know their product (“Education”) is lousy. They make a barely credible attempt to make the kids ready for the next test, but not for life. They are crippling them. And I say this as a teacher who sees it first-hand and was given a stern talking to when I tried to actually inject a little real-life into the classroom to engage the students because someone was offended by facts. Yes, really. Schools are run by petty bureaucrats who think “safe” and avoiding lawsuits is job one, and actual development – which REQUIRES some reasonable risk-taking – is a distant job #2. They foster a litigious attitude, then act surprised when it bites them, as as a result they bubble-wrap and stifle everyone, and as long as they graduate they congratulate themselves on a job well done, no matter how badly prepared for life the person is.

LastRedoubt said...

I've likely mentioned it here before, but Eric's essay on "Ethics From The Barrel of a Gun" is relevant here as well.... namely that by denying the kids the chance to screw up, by coddling them, we also take away judgement that can only be developed with a day to day environment of "decisions have consequences"

I've long drawn the parallel that the essay doesn't just apply to carrying, but to a number of regimes where we actively have to consider life-or-death (or at least injury) decisions consciously and be AWARE of our actions.

Divemedic said...

As a teacher, I have tried using the classroom debate as a learning tool. By using class time to discuss issues, I hoped to develop in my students an ability to examine an issue critically and form an opinion based upon facts.
It failed. As soon as a snowflake was confronted with an opinion that they did not like, they complained to school administration, and I had to stop doing it. The topics that I tried to have debates on:
The case for transgender restrooms.
Global warming. Natural phenomenon, man made disaster, or hoax?
Marriage. Government regulated, social contract, or religious rite?
Should students in school be permitted to use cell phones?

Will said...

You think CPS would allow you to remove your kids from their sphere of control? Especially after you have come to their prior attention? Good luck with that! They would just have your kids grabbed and returned here to their wholesome attention. You, however, might just end up under a jail there, or here.

It was a different country back then. Literally, for you.

DaddyBear said...

We've found that the best therapy for our youngest is to let him loose in the yard. Two tree swings, sticks, a few toys, and a dog seem to have done more than all of the therapists and teachers.